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Medical/dental program boosts high schoolers' interest in field

by Chris DeFrancesco - May 5, 2008

Dozens of potential medical and dental students have already heard their first lectures at the UConn Health Center, even though they wouldn’t matriculate for four more years at the earliest.

Sixty-nine students from 16 Connecticut schools took part in this year’s High School Mini Medical/Dental School, a program of the Health Center’s Department of Health Career Opportunity Programs.

“The goal is to inform and excite students about cutting-edge basic science research that is being conducted by some of the outstanding professors at the Health Center,” says Dr. Marja Hurley, associate dean of the medical school and program director.

“These students also heard lectures from outstanding physicians and dentists who provide care to patients.”

Over the course of nine weeks, 16 faculty members gave presentations. The students were presented with diplomas April 24.

“I like how the doctors talk about where they come from and the goals they set to become a doctor, and they try to motivate you to do what you have to do in order to reach where they are, or even higher,” says Deezana Minnifield, a sophomore at Hartford’s Weaver High School, who sees herself as a future gynecologist.

“I got a lot out of it. It just makes me want to become a doctor even more.”

Weaver sophomore Samarlie Stewart says the program inspired her to consider becoming either a surgeon or a dentist. “It exposed us to different illnesses and areas of medicine,” she says, “and gave us an idea of what we want to become.”

Dr. Biree Andemariam, who lectured on sickle cell disease, says she’s living proof of the impact this type of program can have.

“It was through a similar experience when I was in high school that I decided I wanted to be a doctor,” Andemariam says.

“Up until then, I thought I would be an engineer.”

Some students, like Glastonbury High School senior Lauren Hutchinson, already knew they wanted to get into medicine. She says she particularly enjoyed the presentations on neurology, oncology, and dentistry.

Dr. Edward Thibodeau, associate dean of the School of Dental Medicine, gives a presentation on oral health and disease to high school students in the Mini Medical/Dental School.
Dr. Edward Thibodeau, associate dean of the School of Dental Medicine, gives a presentation on oral health and disease to high school students in the Mini Medical/Dental School.
Photo by Chris DeFrancesco

Next year, Hutchinson will start the pre-medical program at Simmons College in Boston.

Caitlyn Gaetani, a senior at Kennedy High School in Waterbury, says she has always wanted to work in medicine.

“I’m just not sure what field in medicine yet, so this is helping me,” she says.

Both students and faculty left impressions on each other.

“The students are bright, curious, ask questions, and stay alert throughout the lectures that come after a long week of classes,” says Dr. David Papermaster, whose presentation was titled “What Do Green-eyed Frogs Tell Us About Blindness?”

“After the lectures, they come forward to ask more questions, or get an e-mail address to send in additional questions,” he says. “What more can a teacher ask?”

Dr. Peter Schulman, who lectured on cardiology, says, “I really enjoy the enthusiasm of the high school students. Their questions are often right on target and force us to rethink how we explain complex topics to students.”

Hurley says some of the students who attended the first program 12 years ago have completed medical school and are now in residency programs.

Dr. David Rowe, who discussed stem cell research, says “The Mini Medical/Dental School program should be a paradigm for how the University can have a larger impact on the secondary school population to draw a larger number of Connecticut students to our university, select a career in the sciences, and eventually practice that career within the state.”

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