By Wendy Sarubbi | November 25, 2014 12:36 pm

First-year UCF medical student Christa Zino still remembers the nurse who spoke at her elementary school and made such a difference in the young girl’s life.  As a child attending Pinewood Elementary School in Apopka, Zino described herself as “a student going down the wrong path,” but the nurse inspired her and stayed in touch with Zino all through high school. That connection helped Zino stay on the right path for a career caring for others and now the M.D. student says “I want to be able to give back in that way, and possibly make a difference.”

On November 19, Zino and two of her College of Medicine classmates did just that, participating in a Teach-In at Hungerford Elementary School in Eatonville to mentor children about future career opportunities. The annual event, sponsored by Orange County Public Schools, brings professionals from chefs to zookeepers to business executives into local classrooms to help students learn about professions they may never have considered.

Second-year medical student Sean Chagani and first-year students Zino and Lea Meir visited Hungerford classrooms and explained their path to medical school and how the Eatonville youngsters could do the same.  “A lot of our kids come from low-income areas, and sometimes their parents don’t work,” said Hungerford program coordinator Tiquisha Williams, who organized the Teach-In. “The kids only see teachers or maybe workers at the grocery store as jobs. We want them to see that there are other careers out there.”

The medical students donned their white coats with stethoscopes around their necks, which made the children eager for a chance to hear their own heartbeats and learn more about how the vital organ works. “The earlier that you can get out and make kids curious about science, the better effect it will have in the long run,” said Chagani. ”Any chance I get to mentor young students and help them discover their passion, I want to pursue that.”

Meir noted that the Teach-In gives medical students a chance to reach beyond Medical City and affect the Central Florida community.  “Everywhere you go in this community, people are so interested and invested in us,” she said. “To have some sort of impact back on the community is really refreshing.” Throughout the day, medical students were stopped by Eatonville residents and educators who wanted to hear more about the medical school, and remark on the exciting growth in Medical City.

For Zino, the Teach-In brought back memories of the nurse who had made such an impact on her life and renewed the medical student’s passion to be a mentor herself.  “It was a wonderful experience to see the children’s faces light up with excitement over our profession,” she said. “Some of the girls thought women had to be nurses, so it was also a great feeling to tell them that women can be doctors also!”

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