By Wendy Sarubbi | July 22, 2013 1:57 pm

Forty-one local high school students analyzed strains of bacteria, identified a crime suspect using microbiology and learned how a stroke damages the human brain during the UCF College of Medicine’s second annual Health Leaders Summer Camp. The students, from Osceola and Orange counties, spent a week on UCF’s main campus learning about the variety of careers in healthcare and then spent the second week touring partner hospitals and institutions of higher education.

The camp, spearheaded by Dr. Lisa Barkley, assistant dean for diversity and inclusion, is designed to expose students from medically underserved communities to career options in research and healthcare. And with Medical City expected to produce more than 30,000 jobs by 2017, Health Leaders strives to help prepare those students to fill those jobs. As Dr. Barkley explained, “I think this program is really connected to our mission at the College of Medicine, which is to be a premiere medical school that’s here for us all.”

DSC_1769Faculty members from the college’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences worked with students to understand how scientific study can improve health. At the Burnett school, the high school scientists compared DNA samples using high-tech equipment. They analyzed bacteria such as E. coli and MRSA. They learned that bacteria is everywhere – on their hands, on door knobs, on cell phones – and the biological processes that occur when that bacteria make you sick. They also studied the social determinants of health — how sociological issues like crime, poverty and a lack of safe drinking water — impact a person’s wellness.

The hands-on experiences helped some students solidify their dreams and others understand the broad range of available health careers. Osceola student Darvanie Smith came to summer camp thinking she wanted to pursue a career in dentistry. But the camp “opened my eyes to a lot more professions out there,” she said. “Because I thought it was just the basic nurses and doctors, but there are a lot of options.”

Pablo Chusan, a junior at Osceola’s Professional and Technical High School (PATHS) said dissecting a sheep’s heart in a lab at Valencia College’s Osceola campus reinforced his dream of becoming a cardiac surgeon. “Everybody was having fun,” he said. “That solidified what I want to be, because I greatly enjoyed that experience.”

More than 20 College of Medicine faculty, students and staff helped put on the camp, as did teams from Nemours Children’s Hospital, Florida Hospital, Valencia College and the Educational Foundation of Osceola County. Those involved in the partnership said the participants’ enthusiasm was contagious. “To see their eyes light up when they start pipetting, and putting on gloves was really exciting,” said Sarah-Vaughn Dottin, coordinator for the College of Medicine’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, who spent both weeks with the students. “A lot of times, high school students aren’t exposed to hands-on lab work and research. We wanted to get them involved and show them the importance of these things, especially if they want to go into medical or health careers.”

DSC_1900The camp ended with students presenting and being judged on their research into a specific medical topic. Small groups were each assigned to research symptoms, causes and treatments for conditions ranging from Hirschsprung’s disease to traumatic brain injury to myocardial infarction (heart attack).

The winning group received iTunes gift cards and a certificate to take a college-level course at Azalia Science Institute. The online course was donated by Dr. Mohtashem Samsam, a Burnett school associate professor who taught anatomy at the camp.

For one soon-to-be College of Medicine M.D. student, the camp was a reminder of what scientific experiences can mean to young people. Burnett school graduate Courtney Mascoe is part of the incoming class of 2017 and volunteered to work with the Health Leaders students. “I actually went to a similar camp when I was their age, and it was definitely a formative experience for me,” she said. “To see the kids get excited and be so animated about these experiences helps revitalize my own passion.”

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