Weekly Features


Medical students reach out to the next generation at Doctor Camp and Camp Medical Detectives

June 19, 2014

Personal connections to medicine were a common theme among the more than 50 local middle and high school students who participated in Doctor Camp, a one-day event for younger students June 11, and Camp Medical Detectives, a two-day event for older kids June 12 to 13, at the IU School of Medicine.

The comfort provided by a friendly anesthesiologist before a scary childhood surgery are what Zoe Hardaway, an eighth-grade student at the Oaks Academy in Indianapolis, recalls when asked why she wants to be a doctor.

Ashden Hayden, an eighth-grader at Tindley Preparatory Academy in Indianapolis, developed an interest in surgery after undergoing a procedure on his legs. Joe Gibson, a seventh-grader at St. Roch Catholic School in Indianapolis, said his own father's experience with hip replacement made him want to learn more about medicine.

"It's very common, especially among Ph.D.s or doctors or people who do research: They tend to go into studying or treating diseases with which they have a lot of personal experiences," said Brittani Bungart, an M.D./Ph.D. student in biomedical engineering at the IU School of Medicine, who helped lead a series of educational activities on the brain during the days' events. "I've personally done a lot of research on Alzheimer's disease, which was the first disease I ever saw as a child."

Bungart was joined by fellow medical students such as Nicole Landry, Jenny Romine and Chrystal Haim, who also served as instructors or "camp counselors," and Derryl Miller and Lisa Fink, who served as this year's co-organizers. Both Doctor Camp and Camp M.D. are student-run events operated under the guidance of the IUSM Office of Medical Service-Learning. The Metropolitan Indianapolis/Central Indiana Area Health Education Center is responsible for recruiting local students to the participant in the event.

"The medical students come up with the schedule; we provide the volunteers, we decide what the kids are going to be doing," said Fink, a rising second-year medical student. "We're really responsible for the whole curriculum and being able to present everything in a way that's fun and engaging."

This year's event focused on the brain, the body's "coolest" organ, according to Fink. Previous years have highlighted other vital body parts, including the heart and kidneys.

"Just think, when you're holding someone's brain, you're holding every memory that person's ever made," Haim said, recalling her own first-year experiences in gross anatomy when students passed around plasticized organs, including the brain, touching and examining the preserved organs in their own hands.

The camp students watched video animations illustrating the signaling process between neurons. They also participated in hands-on activities such as learning how to conduct a physical exam and testing for nerve damage by lightly brushing fingers and arms with a Q-tip; and they practiced making a diagnosis and ordering tests based on various symptoms.

"It's really cool to find out about how the brain works and how it controls the body," said Christina Sally, an eighth-grader at Oaks Academy who's set her sights on a career in neurology.  "We've learned a little bit about the brain in school, but not this much of it."

She also said it was fun having the chance to "get to know new people who are interested in the same things as me."

Traci Adams Wilson, an outreach coordinator at MICI-AHEC, said all the activities that Area Health Education Centers sponsor are aimed at encouraging an interest in STEM careers -- science, technology, engineering and math) -- especially among young people who may rarely get the chance to engage one-on-one with individuals working in the sciences or medicine.

"We feel that it's important to build the pipeline for underserved, underrepresented groups to get into health care careers," she said. "We're not only increasing awareness but also hopefully opening doors for students to become members of various health care professions. The hope is they will also come back to various health care communities who are underserved and give back."

The program is also a great way to instill a sense of respect for sciences and health care in the next generation, Fink said, as well as to encourage everyone who participates to live healthier -- whether they're someone who's simply curious about the body or harboring ambitions to join the next generation of physician scientists.

"If you didn't have anyone to tell you about science or medicine, how could you ever discover you had a passion for it?" said Bungart, a native of Missouri who participated in a similar program before going on to pursue an undergraduate degree in microbiology at IU Bloomington, and now an advanced degree at IUSM.

"Situations like these are what led me to do what I do."

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