Camp Cardiac, Camp Neuro and the Opportunities Academy allow Greater Atlanta higher schoolers to learn about career paths in medicine and science.
For many adults and children alike, including area high school students, summertime may mean a break in routine, but the days, as singer Nat King Cole described them, are definitely not “lazy.”
In fact, PCOM Georgia has been the site of back to back summer camps for the past three weeks.
First, medical students and volunteer faculty members led 36 high school students through two week-long camps, Camp Cardiac and Camp Neuro. Open to high school students from the Greater Atlanta area interested in pursuing healthcare careers, these camps featured such activities as brain and heart dissections, using Styrofoam balls, pipe cleaners and paint to build models of the heart and the brain, and learning about the opioid epidemic and addiction medicine. In addition, the high school students became CPR certified, experienced healthy living activities such as Tai Chi, learned how to perform cardiac and neurological exams and to diagnose and prevent stroke, and presented cases.
A healthcare panel featured ten PCOM Georgia students, graduates of such undergraduate institutions as Emory University, the University of Georgia and Rice University, who discussed their paths to PCOM. The high school students were guided to take Advanced Placement (AP) classes as “college is expensive,” to “get as much field experience as possible” by shadowing physicians and to “pursue what you enjoy.” Students were also advised that “the road to pursuing medicine is arduous and challenging” and that “everyone’s story is different.”
Students Marisa Patel (DO ’22) and Eric Malaney (DO ’22) served as directors of Camp Cardiac, while Harsha Upadhya (DO ’22) and Syara Slaughter (DO ’22) led Camp Neuro under the overall direction of Kelsey Martin (DO ’22).
“As the director of Camp Neuro and Camp Cardiac, I found it to be a truly fulfilling experience to see kids being exposed to medicine and gaining so much interest early on,” Martin said.
“I loved seeing and interacting with campers that had always thought it would be too hard to pursue medicine in the future, and encouraging them to follow their dreams no matter what obstacles they may face.”
These camps were followed by a two-week camp, the Opportunities Academy, attended by 21 Gwinnett County Public Schools students. The academy’s primary goal is to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in healthcare fields, organizers said.
Primarily Meadowcreek and Berkmar high school rising 11th and 12th graders, the students participate in a health career track at their high schools and submitted applications, along with an essay on why they wanted to attend camp.
The first day of camp featured a welcome talk by Karla Booker, MD, who practices urgent care and family medicine with the WellStar Medical Group.
The students were attentive as she shared her story of attending medical school as a single mother. “There are days you don’t feel like giving your best. You still do your best,” she advised along with a number of other adages like -
“Attitude determines altitude” and “Be the person that when you’re in the room, your energy transforms it.”
She even gave the students her cell phone number and asked the students to stay in touch.
Eight PCOM Georgia mentors, including students in the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, Doctor of Pharmacy and Master of Biomedical Sciences programs, were carefully selected by Kala Hurst (DO ’22) and Brittany Lowder (PharmD ’22) who led the Opportunities Academy this year. The camp has been held on campus each summer since 2017 and was patterned after a camp begun on the PCOM campus in Philadelphia.
Faculty advisors included Adwoa Aduonum, PhD, associate professor of neuroscience, physiology and pharmacology, and Valerie Cadet, PhD, associate professor of pathology, microbiology and forensic medicine.
Camp Director Hurst said, “My team held weekly meetings from January to the start of camp to create the curriculum, plan field trips and reach out to faculty members. The program is student-led, but campus-supported. We as a campus made every effort to make the students feel welcomed and enthralled by the program.”
The high school students experienced activities such as discussions about the heart, recreational drugs and the brain, a college fair, field trips to the Shepherd Center, Bodies, The Exhibition, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with an infectious disease presentation. At a graduation ceremony, attended by their family members, the high school students presented cases and received commencement stoles.
Aisha DeBerry, Director of Diversity and Community Partnerships at PCOM Georgia said, “The Opportunities Academy 'opens the door' for high school students to gain exposure to the healthcare field, but not only that, it provides a place for students to feel empowered and engaged.”
She added, “I live by the quote 'you can't be what you can't see,' and this camp gives our area high school students who are diverse in nature the opportunity to see the possibilities by way of interacting with current students of color and being taught by faculty alike. It is truly amazing to witness the impact PCOM Georgia can have on the community.”
Established in 2005, PCOM Georgia is a private, not-for-profit, accredited institute of higher education dedicated to the healthcare professions. The Suwanee, Georgia, campus is affiliated with Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine which has a storied history as a premier osteopathic medical school. PCOM Georgia offers doctoral degrees in osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, and physical therapy and graduate degrees in biomedical sciences and physician assistant studies. Emphasizing "a whole person approach to care," PCOM Georgia focuses on educational excellence, interprofessional education and service to the wider community. The campus is also home to the Georgia Osteopathic Care Center, an osteopathic manipulative medicine clinic, which is open to the public by appointment. For more information, visit pcom.edu or call 678-225-7500.
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