Community Spotlight

Wassel & Williams' Summer Academy Offers Career Exploration for Pre-Med Track High School Students

April 12, 2016 by Carolyn Shapiro

For the high school student who loves biology or chemistry and has a penchant for helping people, the pre-med path is not the only option available. Exposing future undergraduates to a variety of specialties, roles, and vocations in medicine is the primary goal of the new summer Health & Medicine Academy at the University of Vermont, a three-college-credit course taught by UVM College of Medicine faculty members that will take place in July.

Department of Pathology and Laboratory Sciences faculty members Christina Wassel, Ph.D., associate professor, and Tamara Williams, Ph.D., Assistant Professor. (Photo: Brent Harrewyn)

For the high school student who loves biology or chemistry and has a penchant for helping people, the pre-med path is not the only option available. Exposing future undergraduates to a variety of specialties, roles, and vocations in medicine is the primary goal of the new summer Health & Medicine Academy at the University of Vermont, a three-college-credit course taught by UVM College of Medicine faculty members that will take place in July.

The pre-college summer program was designed for high school students who have completed at least the 10th grade and have an interest in exploring a health-related science or the medical field. Co-instructors Christina Wassel, Ph.D., associate professor, and Tamara Williams, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, say that Health & Medicine Academy students will tour laboratories, meet researchers, learn about genomic medicine, hear about jobs in public health and the pharmaceutical industry, and practice putting an I.V. in a patient simulator in the UVM Clinical Simulation Laboratory.

“The curriculum is designed to broaden high school students’ perspectives through interactions with our dynamic biomedical research, medicine, and health-related community at the College of Medicine and the UVM Medical Center,” says Williams, who specializes in genomic education.

Students living in rural areas or at schools with only basic science classes likely have had little exposure to a wet lab – where research involves liquid-based chemicals, drugs or biological material – or to the daily activities of a speech pathologist or ultrasound technician, says Wassel, who specializes in cardiovascular epidemiology.

The Health & Medicine Academy is structured into two segments: one focused on research; the other on health and medical fields. In the Clinical Simulation Lab, students will see a virtual surgery and meet a Standardized Patient, a member of the community who portrays a patient in a medical setting. That’s also where they’ll work with Harvey® cardiopulmonary patient simulators.

Students will have the opportunity to interact with a clinical ethicist, who will look at case studies and provide the humanist perspective, discussing issues such as privacy with patient data. Timothy Hunter, director of the Advanced Genome Technologies Core Facility at the UVM Cancer Center, will facilitate hands-on demonstrations with the students.

The professors promise the course will allow the students to enjoy the perks of summer, and give them a taste of life on the UVM campus.

“We’re hoping it will increase high school students’ interest in UVM,” Wassel says.

Following the two-week on-campus session, students will be required to complete a two-week online component that includes a report, reflecting on their experience, and a project that might involve literature research or an interview with someone in their community.

The Health & Medicine Academy at UVM grew out of a course formerly offered through UVM’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences, which focused more on anatomy and physiology, Williams says. The new course broadens the scope and expands the number of students from about 40 to 70 students from both within and outside of Vermont.

Students can either commute or live and dine in a UVM dorm for an additional cost. Through the statewide Dual Enrollment program, some Vermont students can qualify for reimbursement for part of the tuition. The professors are looking at other ways to provide financial assistance, as well.

They expect that the students’ fresh perspectives, curiosity and new-found knowledge about the diversity of health and medical fields will energize them.

“It would be really nice to see the students who weren’t aware they had all of these options, grow and remain open to new possibilities, too,” Williams says.