High school students in the MGH Youth Scholars program learn about potential careers during visits to IHP campus.
Looking into eyes with an ophthalmoscope. Listening to heartbeats using a stethoscope. Trying to catch a tossed football while standing on one leg. Checking the reaction of a knee with a reflex hammer.
These were just some of the experiences more than 30 high school students had during their recent visits to the MGH Institute.
The students, all of whom attend schools in Boston, Chelsea, and Revere, were part of the MGH Youth Scholars program. On two consecutive Thursdays, they listened and learned from MGH Institute graduate students in the school’s genetic counseling, nursing, occupational therapy, physical therapy, physician assistant studies, and speech-language pathology programs.
Valentina Reyes Cruz was familiar with nursing, but after learning about occupational therapy, she said was now intrigued by that profession. “I’m not sure what I really want to do, to be honest, so seeing all of these was good,” said the East Boston High School freshman.
Revere High School freshman Marcelo Fermin-Cuartis said he enjoyed both the occupational therapy and physical therapy segments. The JV football team player was particularly interested in OT because he learned about the importance of balance when throwing a football standing on one foot. But he already had a career path in mind before arriving at the IHP – either as a brain surgeon or orthopaedic surgeon.
“I watch The Good Doctor [TV show] and I like what the brain surgeon does, so that would be interesting,” said Fermin-Cuartis. “And you know how [Brazil soccer star] Neymar got injured recently? He has to go through surgery. I want to give someone the opportunity to be able to play the sport that they love.”
While Fermin-Cuartis was a bit of an outlier, most of the other high schoolers like Reys Cruz had not yet developed college or career plans. That’s why the program was originally begun 14 years ago, said program manager Diana Hernandez, which includes participating with the Institute for the past 10 years.
“Our goal is to increase students’ interest in science and healthcare and spark college aspirations and preparedness,” said Hernandez about the students, many of whom were from minoritized populations. “We work to help these scholars succeed academically in high school, graduate from college, and enter the workforce with a strong sense of academic fortitude and confidence.”
At the beginning of the high schoolers’ visit, Dr. Jane Baldwin, an assistant professor of physical therapy, provided an overview of what they could expect to learn. Then, they broke up into three teams and rotated through the Sanders IMPACT Practice Center where IHP students provided specifics about each profession and organized some hands-on experience using instruments such as stethoscopes and reflex hammers.
With one group of the high schoolers seated around a table, Master of Science in Genetic Counseling student Rebecca Rojas began modeling a pedigree intake with the program’s associate chair, Gayun Chan-Smutko. Rojas asked about her immediate family, followed by other relatives, all the while drawing the squares and circles and accompanying names of relatives. Drawing lines to connect the shapes, Rojas created a pedigree template that genetic counselors use to determine how certain traits or conditions might be passed down through a family and which family members could be at risk of inheriting that trait or condition.
It was something Haris Skoko was keenly interested in, and for good reason: the week before, he had created a pedigree template of his own family for a school assignment. “I know diabetes runs in my family so this has always interested me, anything with biology and health,” said the Chelsea High School freshman, who said he would consider genetic counseling as a career.
As eye-opening it was for the high schoolers, IHP students were equally enthusiastic about speaking to teens who could become the next generation of healthcare providers.
“They have so many different interests from what I was familiar with at their age,” said Peace Okoeka, a second-year Master of Physician Assistant Studies student. Looking at the multiracial composition of the high school students, she said, “I think there’s going to be a lot more diversity in this generation when it comes to going into healthcare and PA, so I'm really excited to see how it turns out in a few years.”
Other IHP students who participated included Valli Chittajallu and Christina Maiello (PA); Maya Fields, Evelyn Roberts, Kristtyan Tran, Jillian Salis, Ashlyn Harris, Maddie Brodeur, and Liz Scharer (OT); Kennedi Jones (GC); Ashley Schena, Bree-Anna Nicoletti, and Galina Smith (NS); Jonathan Martinez (PT); and Danielle Cartier, Emily Fortner, and Michelle Dominguez (SLP).
Kate Chaney contributed to this story.
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