By Wendy Sarubbi | October 1, 2012 3:40 pm

As they learned recently about surgery, brains and beating hearts at the UCF College of Medicine, teenagers from Orlando’s Memorial Middle School took a step closer to their dreams. The educational experience launched the college’s Health Explorers program, designed to inspire middle school children from medically under-served areas to get excited about careers in health.

Health Explorers is an extension of the Health Leaders high school pipeline program developed by Dr. Lisa Barkley, the College of Medicine’s assistant dean for diversity and inclusion. By expanding the program into middle school, the college can reach minority children at an even younger age to inspire, mentor and prepare them for higher education and health careers, Dr. Barkley said.

About 35 students came to the College of Medicine September 19 and toured the Harriet F. Ginsburg Health Sciences Library, worked with interactive learning materials and studied a touring exhibit of contemporary African-American Surgeons and their contributions to medicine and medical education.

They researched and presented reports on the surgeons and then heard from a real life surgeon – Dr. Juan Cendan, assistant dean of simulation and a board-certified general surgeon. Dr. Cendan told the students about his own career path and the joys that come from caring for patients. He said he chose surgery as a specialty because “I like the immediacy of surgery. I took out that lump, that appendix. I made you feel better.”

The Memorial students were part of the school’s STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – program. With help from the College of Medicine, Memorial plans after-school science clubs, outside speakers, tours and interactive programs that will encourage students’ interest in science and math. As STEM adviser Sonia Smith explained, “When our students can see it, touch it, taste it and feel it, they connect with it.”

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