Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Doctors In The Making: Pipeline Program Guides Health Professionals of Tomorrow

Now full steam ahead into its second year, the MSU College of Human Medicine (CHM) Health Careers Pipeline Program is about more than just career exploration, pairing high school students from Grand Rapids with pre-med/pre-professional undergraduate mentors.

The program focuses on academic preparation for students considering future careers in medical fields through rich mentoring from current undergraduate and medical students, as well as focused lessons and field trips.

Spearheaded by CHM Admissions Counselor, Brian Ulrich, MA, the College of Human Medicine is partnering with Grand Rapids Central High School and Grand Valley State University (GVSU) undergraduates.

With assistance from current CHM students, each pair bonds over eight winter weeks of participation at the CHM Secchia Center and around Grand Rapids. Current CHM students assist with weekly activities and hold an active role in program development and mentoring. Sessions include meeting with local medical professionals, discussing career topics with various physicians, therapists, researchers, and nurses among others.

The program utilizes many available resources to cover various aspects of health, even beyond career exploration. For example, one of the sessions last year was held at the Grand Rapids Downtown Market, where a nutritionist led the session to offer tips for healthy eating on a budget. Hands-on at the Downtown Market's teaching kitchen, participants cooked up a few easy recipes before enjoying the dishes for dinner.

Participants enjoyed learning (and eating) some healthy, easy recipes at the Downtown Market

Per Ulrich: "One of the reasons that this is needed is that there is a lack of programs that exist for the sole purpose of identifying and developing students whose aspiration or access to careers within the health professions may be compromised given economic, geographic, or educational disadvantage. Therefore, we designed this program with the explicit intent of having elements of career exploration and personal growth for this group of students."

Over the last two decades, the health industry has grown exponentially in the Grand Rapids-metro area. With the College of Human Medicine's expansion to downtown Grand Rapids' "medical mile" in 2010, the time was ripe for the College to take another step in engaging the community and fostering potential health professionals.

By many accounts, the initial year of the collaboration was a great success. First-year participants like Yunis Eyamba, then a senior at Central High School, thought the benefits were clear.

"This [program] really opens people's eyes, for those who don't know much about health and the medical field. It opened us up to different things out there. When most people think of medicine, they think of hospitals, which can be scary. But there are different things to learn about and many different people in different medical roles that can help you," Eyamba explained.

Now in his third year as a College of Human Medicine student, Chad Parkes shared Eyamba's enthusiasm. Parkes was one of the several CHM students to participate.

"I think for both groupsthe college and high school studentsexposure is the main thing. I look back to myself as a high school student and I knew I wanted to go into medicine. Yet all my exposure was from my own appointments or appointments I'd gone to with my brother, who has cerebral palsy. So really getting themselves out here and pursuing their interests so soon is a big thing for the high school students as well as the college students," Parkes said.

CHM students Chad Parkes and Taylor Argo assisted with weekly activities

For Eyamba, her interest in medicine started with television. Eyamba would like to be a pediatrician one day. If not a pediatrician, she's considering being a physician's assistant or neonatal therapist.

"When I was younger, I watched the Cosby Show and he was a pediatrician. So I'm like, 'I want to be that!' I was really close with my pediatrician and was able to see her a lot. So now I love helping people."

Learning how to help others is just one aspect of the program that drew the GVSU students to want to participate. While they, themselves, get to interact and learn more about medicine, they also play a big role in the guidance of their high school counterparts. It's the best of both worlds.

"When I came into this program I felt like it was going to be mostly me teaching my mentee about what college is like. But as I went through the program I found myself learning tons of new things about the field of medicine and how there is no cookie-cutter mold for how you get there," said John Wesley, now in his third year at GVSU. 

"All these careers, visiting the CHS (Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences) building, learning about the physical therapy programs, all the hundreds of careers in nursing that I had no idea about beforethat was just absolutely fantastic. I felt like, while I did provide some guidance for my mentee, I myself was also being guided," Wesley added.

For Mariah Hampton, now a junior at GVSU who also participated last year, the session that stuck with her was the group's trip to the Van Andel Research Center.

"We got to hear a post-doc talk about his research along with some of the history of the place and the opportunities they have for students. That was really outstanding to me because my major is biomedical sciences. Now, I want to be a physician but I'm also interested in exploring the research side because that's important. I think that people are making discoveries everyday right here in Grand Rapids," she said.

Students received tours of several facilities, including the Secchia Center's Clinical Skills and Simulation Suites

Parkes believes that's one of the program's greater perks.

"What's going to benefit them the most is they really get going on that track of, 'What do I want do in the future?' and 'What are the steps I need to take in order to do that?' Maybe this has opened their minds to more medical fields they didn't know existed," Parkes continued.

Still, what surprised him the most was the direction the young students were already taking.

"I knew I wanted to be a doctor but I didn't really uncover what I wanted to do until late in college when I needed to apply. But the first day of this pipeline program, the high school students were going around the room and saying, 'I want to be a neurosurgeon.' That blew my mind! Just to see that passion and how driven these students already are, I think this program helps them see that next level."

That next level is naturally college. Having mentors who are currently in undergraduate programs benefits both groups.

Hampton understands well how that relationship benefited her and her high school mentee.

"During the first week, when it started out, we were all kind of in our shells. She's kind of an introvert, much like me. So breaking her out of her shell was the first step, really. Once we established some common ground, we really got to know each other better.  She got more comfortable asking me questions, which I appreciated," Hampton explained.

"I'm really sad that the program is ending. I'll probably do it again next year just because of that. I liked seeing her eyes open to more options. She came in with a one-track mindshe wanted to be a nurse and work in the clinicsand now she's thinking, "I need to see what else is out there for me."

And that right there, for Ulrich, is the whole purpose.

"We recognized the importance of reaching out to youth in the communities in which we have a presence. In particular, we wanted to offer an opportunity in which students could interact with us and see that they can do this. We don’t want to simply be an ivory tower, but a place that welcomes the exploration of medicine and opens a door towards careers in the health sciences."

For more information on the Health Career Pipeline Program, please see the program's webpage.