By Wendy Sarubbi | July 27, 2015 3:31 pm

For nearly 60 Orange and Osceola County high school students who share the dream of working in medicine, the College of Medicine’s Health Leaders Summer Academy gave them opportunities to learn about the health field, practice some of its skills and discover what they need to do to achieve their dreams.

The two-week camp that ended July 24 included experiments in biomedical research labs, discussions with current medical students and doctors, investigating the causes of disease and tours of facilities like St. Cloud Regional Medical Center and Nemours Children’s Hospital. As they graduated from camp, the rising juniors heard from Dr. Deborah German, vice president for medical affairs and dean of the UCF College of Medicine, who said, “I hope what you’ve experienced here in the summer camp is something that will inspire your dreams and help you dream a little bigger than you were before you came here.”

Health Leaders – and a program called Health Explorers for middle school students – is a College of Medicine pipeline designed to give children from medically underserved communities the training, mentorship and inspiration to be competitive for healthcare jobs. As Rhonda Baur, pipeline director of the Osceola County Education Foundation, which supports Health Leaders, explained, “We want more of our students to get further education after they get out of high school. That will not only help their quality of life, but can also help our community, and we want them to give back to their communities.”

Many of the Health Leaders said the camp helped expose them to the variety of possible careers in health. “I liked having the opportunity to see the different careers in the hospital, as well as careers in labs. That was really eye-opening for me,” said Celebration High School junior Klaudine Caday, who is interested in radiology or psychology in the future.

At the college’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences on the main UCF campus, students experimented with using pipettes to mix and test chemical solutions. At St. Cloud Regional, they met nurses and pilots who transport injured and sick patients by helicopter. At Nemours, they saw the state-of-the-art control center that tracks vital signs of every patient in the facility.

Research was another important part of camp, as teams of students were assigned a specific patient suffering from a specific disease. Their assignment: research symptoms, treatments, causes and the science behind the disease, which included diabetes, sickle cell anemia and Crohn’s disease. Each team then gave a formal presentation on their research findings.

“As a health professional, you have to know how to speak in public, and to patients,” said Sophie Granville, a junior at the Osceola County School for the Arts. “I think the research element of the camp is crucial in helping us develop those skills.”

Dr. Lisa Barkley, the College of Medicine’s assistant dean for diversity and inclusion, has led the Summer Academy for the last four years, has seen the number of participants grow and has watched as many went onto college pursuing health careers. “It’s a great feeling to be able to develop that next generation of students,” she said. “We have to continue doing it so we have students in the pipeline who are ready for these health careers.” Dr. Barkley, who in addition to teaching cares for patients at UCF Health as a family, adolescent and sports medicine physician, participated in a similar enrichment program when she was in high school. “It’s one thing dream about something,” she said. “It’s another to see it in action and to meet someone who’s doing it.”

As the academy came to a close, participants came away with possibilities for their futures that included nursing, biomedical research and orthopedic surgery. Dr. German invited students to explore those possibilities and dream big for the future. “One day, I hope that I will see one or two of you enrolled here in our College of Medicine,” she said. “We would be delighted to hand you that degree and say that you were in our Health Leaders program.”

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