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Opportunities Academy Introduces High Schoolers to Healthcare Careers

June 27, 2024
Opportunities Academy participants (in the white coats) share their certificates while posing with program mentors and faculty advisers.
Opportunities Academy participants (in the white coats) share their certificates while posing with program mentors and faculty advisers.

On June 21, a group of 21 high school students celebrated graduating from PCOM South Georgia's annual Opportunities Academy. Wearing their new white coats and with certificates in hand, they left the Moultrie campus after a week of gaining some basic health care skills, learning about health care career possibilities and now having the confidence to follow any of those paths.

The students came from 12 different counties in South Georgia – Ben Hill, Brooks, Coffee, Colquitt, Dougherty, Irwin, Lee, Lowndes, Mitchell, Thomas, Tift and Turner. From June 17 through June 21, PCOM students in the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) program served as mentors for the students. Often that mentoring relationship continues after Opportunities Academy ends.

During the closing ceremony on June 21, keynote speaker Jessica Mitchum, DO, a family medicine physician at Colquitt Regional Medical Center and a faculty member in the Georgia South Graduate Medical Education Residency Program, shared words of wisdom with the participants.

“Throughout this week-long enrichment program, you have practiced critical thinking skills and collaboration,” she said. “By engaging in problem-based learning, you have delved into the depths of your curiosity. Remember, that critical thinking is the key to success in any field, especially in healthcare. The ability to analyze situations, think outside the box and find the best course of action is what distinguishes exceptional health care professionals.” 

Opportunities Academy began at PCOM South Georgia in the summer of 2019, before the campus even opened its doors for medical students. Stacie Fairley, PhD, has served as the faculty adviser since the beginning.

“PCOM's Opportunities Academy offers substantial advantages for high school students, primarily through comprehensive exposure to the healthcare profession,” she said.

Dr. Fairley explained some of the benefits, including career insight and guidance; skill enhancement; mentorship with PCOM students and faculty; academic enrichment through the curriculum; and networking opportunities for participants to build connections with peers, mentors and professionals.

Three high school boys practice yoga poses in a PCOM South Georgia classroom
As part of learning about the importance of self-care, Opportunities Academy participants learned how yoga can help with relieving stress.

When asked on Thursday about his favorite lesson so far, Dhruket Patel, a rising junior at Thomasville High School, did not hesitate with an answer.

“My favorite part of this week so far was getting to know all the professors and mentors and learning from them – and also the stop the bleed activity,” he said. “I enjoyed it a lot. It was very educational and the skills we learned could save a life. Then I've learned so much from the mentors and all of the professors. They've taught me a lot that I didn't know about going into medicine, and I really appreciate all that they've taught me. The most important thing that I've learned so far is that there's more to medicine than meets the eye.”

Eva Paudel, a rising junior at Lee County High School, learned about the creativity involved in health care.

“I think my favorite part about this week so far was getting into mentor-mentee groups and creating our project because my group decided to make a video on CPR, and it's been really fun,” she said. “The most important thing that I've taken from this experience so far is that there are so many opportunities in the healthcare field. It's not limited to one thing or another. There are so many different pathways you can choose.”

Dillon Presley, Community Outreach Coordinator for DEI and Community Relations, said. “I believe this program draws interest from all over South Georgia because of the various incredible pathway programs that we have here at PCOM South Georgia. Our program participants have direct access to our state-of-the-art facilities, lectures from our highly trained and experienced faculty and comprehensive hands-on training, which are essential for developing the skills needed to be successful in the medical field.”

A PCOM faculty member leads three Moultrie area high school students in a dissection exercise at a table.
Randall Sisam, DO (left), assistant professor of clinical medicine, instructs Opportunities Academy participants during a suturing workshop.

Participants learned from a wide range of activities such as dissecting sheep organs, learning the basics of CPR and practicing how to handle a sprained ankle to basic professional skills including building a résumé and how to tie a tie.

“We also put so much focus and energy into addressing the unique healthcare needs of South Georgia communities, which make it an attractive option for students who are passionate about making a difference in their local communities,” Presley said. “When you combine the highest quality of education with the purposeful community focus, our participants get the best tools possible to excel in their future medical careers.”

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About PCOM South Georgia

In 2019, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM), a premier osteopathic medical school with a storied 125-year history, extended its commitment to the Southeast by establishing PCOM South Georgia. An additional teaching location in Moultrie, Georgia, PCOM South Georgia offers both a full, four-year medical program leading to the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree and a Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences. PCOM is a private, not-for-profit institution that trains professionals in the health and behavioral sciences fields. Joining PCOM Georgia in Suwanee in helping to meet the healthcare needs of the state, PCOM South Georgia focuses on educating physicians for the region. For more information, visit pcom.edu or call 229-668-3110.

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Cindy B. Montgomery
Public Relations and Social Media Manager
Email: cindymo@pcom.edu
Office: 229-668-3198 | Cell: 229-873-2003

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