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Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009 01:40 am

High school students begin pre-pre-med at SIU

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Merik Ducker, a freshman at Lanphier High School, receives his white lab coat from Southern Illinois University School of Medicine students. As part of the new Physician Pipeline Preparatory Program, local high school freshmen will team up with SIU med st
PHOTO BY AMANDA ROBERT

Two dozen young students filed forward to receive their white coats at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine on Nov. 9. Not yet medical residents or even first-year medical students, this class is special — they’re all local high school freshmen chosen for a new initiative that will prepare them for careers in medicine.

The Physician Pipeline Preparatory Program, cosponsored by SIU School of Medicine and the Springfield Public Schools, was conceived to foster youth’s interest in the medical field, as well as their future participation in the Springfield medical community.

“We know that when students try to get into medical school, it always helps if they have had some exploration of medicine,” says Dr. Wesley McNeese, executive assistant to the dean for diversity, multicultural and minority affairs at SIU and a program leader. “That helps them stand out from the others who are applying.

“We also are hoping that because they went through the process tied to SIU, they will consider coming here for med school and ultimately consider practicing in central and southern Illinois.”

Program leaders initially advertised 15 slots in the preparatory program, McNeese says, but instead invited 24 freshmen from Springfield, Lanphier, Southeast and Sacred Heart-Griffin high schools after a rigorous application process. These students were chosen based on academic performance, involvement in extracurricular and community activities, recommendations from school and community leaders, a written personal statement and an interview by a 12-person admissions committee.

The committee also gave special consideration to students with a disadvantaged socioeconomic background or the potential to become a first-generation college graduate. Fourteen minority students are in the program.

Dr. Walter Milton, Jr., the superintendent of Springfield Public Schools, views the Physician Pipeline Preparatory Program as a collaborative venture that will help students compete in a “global medical environment.”

“We are living in an ever-changing global society where the competition is quite steep,” Milton says. “We must produce a body of critical and analytical thinkers who will be able to meet the challenges ahead.”

Students are enrolled in after-school and weekend training sessions — the first begins this week and runs through Nov. 21 — that feature tours and shadowing of SIU students and faculty, seminars on college planning and medical school protocol and lessons in leadership, math, science, communication and verbal reasoning.

Each session will introduce a different area of medicine, McNeese says. This month students will learn about the cardiovascular system. They’ll participate in activities like problem-based learning, where they’ll be asked to determine treatment for hypothetical cardiovascular patients, learn about related research and visit the Prairie Heart Institute.

Students will move through these training sessions until they graduate from high school; the next two are scheduled for Feb. 8-20 and June 14-25. Project leaders also hope to offer college scholarships to graduates of the preparatory program.

The inaugural Physician Pipeline Preparatory Program received such a large response that program leaders say they could invite a second round of students to begin training next fall.

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.

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