Contributed by Maureen Mack for the Medical College of Wisconsin:
Erica Marion is no stranger to health
emergencies. Both her parents have
been diagnosed as diabetic. Her
great-grandmother received a kidney transplant after years on dialysis. And recently, her grandfather was
diagnosed with leukemia.
The constant struggle with health served to further fuel Erica’s career goal: to become a doctor. The 17-year-old high school junior is already heading down a path to achieving that goal, thanks to her family’s support, and programs through her high school and through a partnership at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) in Wauwatosa.
“My mother really pushed me to strive, to succeed. A lot of parents are proud their child wants to be a doctor, but my mom saw I really wanted to help patients, especially with what my family has experienced,” said Erica. “I’m looking for any and all opportunities to get hands-on experience, to get my foot in the door now for medical school.”
Erica and a half dozen of her classmates at James Madison High School in Milwaukee are members of the Milwaukee Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Youth Health Service Corps (YHSC) program. AHEC, a national program, aims to improve the health of individuals and communities by transforming health care through education. The goal is to identify students interested in health careers and assist them in realizing those careers.
Recently, the YHSC group spent a day at the Medical College of Wisconsin learning what medical school is really like. The students practiced medical procedures on standardized, computerized “patients” in MCW’s STAR Center, a training resource in which medical students have the opportunity to diagnose and treat simulated, computer-programmed “patients.”
The partnership is part of MCW’s Urban and Community Health Pathway, one of the educational pathways open to medical students.
Jacqueline Watchmaker, a Mequon native and a first-year medical student at MCW, is one of three medical students participating in the partnership with YHSC this year.
Watchmaker, who worked with high school students with science career interests while an undergraduate at Emory University in Atlanta, sees the partnership as a great opportunity to assist women who are interested in health care careers.
“As a woman going into surgery, which is a traditionally male-dominated field, I think it would be great if more women, particularly more minority women, were to be involved in specialty care, and health and science careers overall,” she said.
Suzanne Letellier has been with the YHSC program five years. She says the program is unique because it offers opportunities for volunteer service, and the students get first-hand experience that helps guide them in career choices.
“Some of these students come into our program and already know the career path they are interested in, but others figure it out along the way thanks to programs like this one,” Letellier said.
According to the American Academy of Medical Colleges, African-Americans account for 13 percent of the U.S. population but only 6 percent of 2011 medical school students were black, and only 4 percent of practicing doctors are black.
Dr. Linda Meurer, the director of the Urban and Community Pathway at MCW, says that statistic shows the importance of programs like AHEC. She noted that this type of partnership links education with the community’s needs to address disparities in healthcare access and quality in urban settings.
“Our medical students serve as role models, and help navigate the path to higher education for high school students,” Meurer said. “And the medical students benefit greatly by getting to know the community through these kids, and learning how to work with different populations while inspiring the next generation of health care professionals."
Erica Marion is inspired: She’s currently top of her class at James Madison, and hopes to attend Johns Hopkins or MCW for medical school. But first, she’s spending this summer on a volunteer mission in Costa Rica, mentoring middle school students.
“I had mentors, too," Erica said. "Now I’m learning leadership, and I want to share what’s been shared with me."
Maureen Mack is director of media relations for the Medical College of Wisconsin and a regular contributor to Wauwatosa Patch.