Sixteen-year-old Chelsea Anestal has always had a passion for discovery and she wants to channel this passion into creating new medicines that will save lives. She credits the Health Leaders Summer Academy at the University of Central Florida for helping to make that dream a possibility.
“I’ve always liked to explore and research things and I really want to use that to help other people,” said Anestal, a senior at Gateway High School. “So I started looking into medicine and right now what really interests me is pharmaceutical research – the exploration and discovery of new medicine for different types of people.”
Anestal is an alumna of the Academy, created and run by the College of Medicine. It is a medical pipeline program that provides hands-on educational experiences for high school students from underserved communities interested in health careers. Some 350 students from Osceola and Orange counties have participated in the program since its inception in 2012. Now in its sixth year, this year’s camp which began on Monday welcomed 70 high school students from Osceola and Orange counties.
Each year, the camp immerses students in all things medical, including research, basic anatomy lessons, college application assistance and mentoring from faculty and students. During the camp, Anestal and the other students toured hospitals, met medical professionals, conducted research and made presentations on health-related topics, and learned about issues affecting the community.
Anestal, who attended the camp in 2016, learned how she could use her passion for research to map out a career in healthcare. She also learned about inequities in medical care and was inspired to launch a Health Equity club at her school to help others her age see these disparities and organize to do something about them.
“The club is mainly to educate people on the disparities and help them see these issues so they will be able to play their role in making a difference, because if nobody knows about it then nothing will ever happen, so this is the first step,” she said.
The club, which has approximately 10 members, meets once or twice a month and identifies issues and projects they can undertake to help improve the health and well-being of underserved members in her Kissimmee community. One of their recent projects was an educational campaign on drug abuse. The club has also organized several food drives to aid disaster relief efforts for Haiti after Hurricane Matthew as well as help feed needy children across Central Florida.
Health education is another important platform for the small group, mostly made up of her classmates who want to study medicine and law.
“We also want to teach people, especially in our community that they can be healthy without spending a lot of money, because some may think they can’t afford to eat healthy and we want try to remove that mindset,” she said.
Anestal’s dream is to see health equity clubs in more high schools with students making similar efforts in their own communities.
After leaving high school, she hopes to do her undergraduate degree in pharmaceutical sciences and then move on to study medicine. She will join her older sister, Thrasher who is studying architecture, as the first generation in her family to attend college.
Anestal, whose academic performance put her on the dean’s list for most of her high school years, credits the Health Leaders program for connecting her with medical students and professionals who have helped her chart a course toward her career goals.
“Learning from them about medicine and the different paths they took was very beneficial,” Anestal said.
“There are a lot of students in my community that don’t believe that they can become doctors. They don’t know they have a lot of options and this camp really gives them the idea that they can actually do it,” she added. “Especially since most are low income or they may not have the right grades right now, this program shows there are still other routes that they can take to be somebody great in the medical field.”
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