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UT piques teen interest in medicine, In effort to address doctor shortage


It wasn’t your typical Tuesday morning for Avik Som and his classmates from Cypress Falls High School, who got a chance to revive a “bionic man,” inspect the internal cavities of a cadaver and pick the brains of first-year medical school students.

They were participating in a teen outreach program designed to spark an interest in health care professions. It was organized by the Admissions Office of The University of Texas Medical School at Houston to help address the statewide physician shortage.

Cypress Falls High senior Avik Som checks for vital signs with the help of UT Houston Medical School student Gavin Wagenheim and UT Houston Associate Professor Eric F. Reichman, M.D., Ph.D.

Cypress Falls High senior Avik Som checks for vital signs with the help of UT Houston Medical School student Gavin Wagenheim and UT Houston Associate Professor Eric F. Reichman, M.D., Ph.D.

“With the physician shortage, it’s crucial to reach out to students before they get to college,” said Judianne Kellaway, M.D., assistant dean for admissions and the Stephen A. Lasher III Professor in Ophthalmology at the UT Medical School at Houston. “We have programs for high school students and programs for middle school students, too.”

The three-hour gross anatomy class is the cornerstone of the Admissions Office’s teen outreach efforts, which also includes presentations by medical school students at middle schools. A week-long, mini-medical school is planned for the summer.

“We are trying to get a message out to young people that the practice of medicine is a fulfilling one, and they need to consider medicine as a future,” Kellaway said. “We hope that these efforts will help add to the number of people going into medicine at a time when a dramatic need is predicted as the age of our population shifts toward the Baby Boomer.”

According to the Texas Medical Association, Texas ranks 45th in doctors per capita with 43,000 physicians engaged in patient care for a population of about 23 million. There are 5,400 medical students and 6,000 resident physicians, the association reports.

The UT teen anatomy program has tripled since 2006 from 12 classes and 230 students to 35 classes and 700 students. The core class, “Anatomy Enrichment Program,” includes an introduction to medical school, sessions on organ systems and lessons on cadavers. The newest offering is “Anatomy Enrichment Program - Extreme!” It includes a session with a fully functional mannequin at the Surgical and Clinical Skills Center.

According to Nancy Murphy, director of special programs at the medical school, there is a waiting list for the anatomy classes and there are plans to expand the program. It’s limited to 20 students per class and certificates are presented.

“This is an educational activity that we hope will lead to a health care career,” said Len Cleary, Ph.D., a senior lecturer in the Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the medical school. “It’s not a museum exhibit or a tour.”

Som, a Cy Falls student who has been accepted to The University of Texas at Austin, Rice University and Johns Hopkins University, is interested in a health care career. He is particularly interested in artificial organs and would be the first doctor in his family. “I really like the science,” he said.

Besides making good grades, Som is involved in many of the extracurricular activities officials in the UT Medical School Admissions Office look for. He volunteers at a hospital and entertains residents of a nursing home. He plays both viola and piano and is fond of Mozart as well as jazz.

UT Medical School student and Bellaire High School graduate Gavin Wagenheim is one of the students who teaches teens in the gross anatomy laboratory where they experience the sights and smells of lab work, and in the Surgical & Clinical Skills Center where a “bionic man” groans for help. (Gross anatomy refers to organs and tissue that can be observed with the naked eye.)

“They know a lot and have a lot of questions,” said Wagenheim, who has an interest in becoming an orthopedic surgeon.

Under the watchful eyes of Eric Reichman, Ph.D., M.D., director of the Surgical & Clinical Skills Center, the teens get to listen to various heart and lung sounds, practice their cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) skills, and use a defibrillator to restart a heart on a mannequin. “He talks and you can listen to his heart,” Reichman said.

Getting into medical school is no easy task, according to Murphy, who said that many of those accepted have grade point averages of 3.7 and scores of 32 or more on their Medical College Application Test (MCAT). A medical school application can be 13 to 14 pages.

“It’s not exactly like ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ and it’s nothing like ‘House’,” said Murphy, who encourages teens to track their volunteer activities for inclusion on their resumes and applications. “UT looks for well-rounded individuals.”

Students at the UT Medical School at Houston have served as science fair judges, worked with children with Down Syndrome, volunteered in elementary schools on “Science Night” and volunteered in driving-while-intoxicated prevention programs.

Murphy is keeping records of the teens attending the anatomy classes and will be checking to see if they apply for medical school down the road. “I have my list,” she said.


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