Jul/Aug 2010
Volume 6, Issue 7

Exploration Without Boundaries

Natalia Sanchez

Connecticut gives its middle schoolers a healthcare career day.

On their first day of summer vacation last year, more than 160 middle school students in grades 6 through 8 traveled from around the state to the University of Connecticut Health Center to attend the Middle School Health Careers Enrichment Program (MSHCEP). Sponsored by the Connecticut Area Health Education Center Program (AHEC) at the University of Connecticut of Health Center, the daylong program exposed middle school students to a variety of healthcare careers (medicine, dental medicine, and research) through presentations and hands-on activities.

Connecticut AHEC has a three-prong mission: 1) to increase awareness of health careers and support pipeline programs for students traditionally underrepresented in healthcare; 2) to provide continuing education and support to current and future health professionals; and 3) to work with network partners to address health disparities.

Middle schoolers and staff attending the MSHCEP on June 25 came from Education Connection’s PEACH (Providing Early Acquaintance with Careers in Health) program, Wesleyan University’s Middle School Collaborative Program, and Southwest AHEC Youth Program. Student volunteers from UConn’s Urban Service Track (UST) were tasked with leading workshops, small-group hands-on activities, and answering the youngsters’ questions about how to become a healthcare provider. From beginning to end, Urban Service Track Scholars kept the energy and enthusiasm high throughout a full day of planned activities.

Four educational sessions were offered during the day: careers in dental medicine, careers in medicine, careers in research, and poison control. The session on dentistry began with an informative and interesting presentation by Dr. Ruth Goldblatt, a general dentist and professor in the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine. Dr. Goldblatt talked about oral cancers and tailored her presentation to the middle schoolers, stressing the importance of avoiding tobacco products and wearing mouthguards while playing sports. After Dr. Goldblatt’s remarks, the students visited the preclinical laboratories for hands-on activities. From the moment they donned their gowns, gloves, and face masks, the middle schoolers were actively engaged. They learned how to correctly wear a face mask and position themselves in front of a typodont. With five middle schoolers each, the dental students demonstrated the exercises and answered many questions. In just a short period of time, the students could identify the number of teeth in their typodont and use a mirror to correctly count the teeth in the maxilla. A challenging part of the exercise included naming the teeth—central incisor, lateral incisor, canine, etc, and using the terms mandibular and maxillary to describe their location.

For many of the dental student volunteers, leading the workshop was a rewarding and satisfying experience. Second-year dental student Laura Huling shared that, “working with the students and helping them explore different health career opportunities was a great experience. It was wonderful to add to their interests and be one step in their path to a successful future.” The middle schoolers showed great interest in the dental profession and had insightful questions. In an evaluation of the program, one student expressed his sentiments about the day, saying, “I actually got to experience what it is like to be a medical/dental student” and another stated, “I definitely know I want to have a job in the healthcare field.”

The other workshops were just as stimulating and maybe more unexpected in their activities. For example, the careers in research workshop led by Joy Erickson from UConn’s Chemistry Outreach Department gave the middle schoolers an opportunity to simulate running a research project creating rocket fuel, which then propelled their rockets (film canisters) into the atmosphere.

Another workshop included a poison control demonstration where students learned basics, such as the role of UConn’s Health Center Poison Control and poison prevention tips for babysitters. The final workshop, Careers in Medicine, led by Dr. Kenia Mansilla from Family Medicine, enabled students to take vital signs, examine healthy and diseased lungs and hearts, and work through a clinical case focused on smoking.

All in all, the day was a complete success. Indeed, it does take a village to raise a child and in the case of planning and executing a successful health careers program for middle school students, it took the entire Health Center. The Connecticut AHEC middle school program proved to be an enriching experience for both the student attendees and the graduate student volunteers..

Figure 1

Figure 2
SHAPING THE FUTURE (1.) Lisa DiFedele (SOM-2) with students in the Careers in Medicine workshop. (2.) Natalia Sanchez and Hassam Sultan (SODM-2) in the preclinical laboratory with students.

About the Author
Natalia Sanchez, Class 2012
University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine


Farmington, Connecticut

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