Case Horizons Program Challenges and Inspires High School Students

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A group of School of Medicine students spent two days sharing their world with high school students—including subjects like anatomy.

Seventeen high school sophomores experienced a rare glimpse into the lives of medical students and doctors at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in a pilot shadowing program called Case Horizons. The students attend MC2STEM High School, an open-enrollment school in the Cleveland Municipal School District that teaches a pioneering, project-based curriculum of science, technology, engineering and math.

Case Horizons came about through a friendship between Kevin Fang, a student at the School of Medicine, and Joseph Helpern, a 10th grade science teacher at MC2STEM. Fang spent two years with Teach for America prior to entering medical school, and both men share a deep commitment to using innovative teaching methods to engage young students.

Working with four of his fellow medical students and Terry Wolpaw, MD, associate dean for Curricular Affairs at the School of Medicine, Fang developed the Case Horizons pilot, which was conducted over a two-day period. “Our principal goal is to support the students’ intrinsic motivations to achieve academically,” said Fang. “We seek to do this through exposure to the field of medicine at both the classroom and the clinical level, and educate them about the steps required to become a doctor.”

The MC2STEM students, who are 15 and 16 years old, began their first day by monitoring an inquiry group, a fundamental part of medical school that uses case studies to teach the realities and challenges of everyday practice. After observing, the students engaged in their own inquiry group, applying what they had learned to read the profile of a patient with diabetes, conduct research on the disease, and present their findings. Afterward, a discussion group and role-playing exercise led by medical students helped them learn how diabetes can affect the life of the patient, as well as friends and family members.

The young people also were taught the basics of surface anatomy and how to use a stethoscope to listen to heart, lung and bowel sounds. Each of them wore a white coat loaned for the occasion by enthusiastic medical students, who wanted to make the day as authentic as possible for their young charges.

“The students as a group really impressed me,” said Fang. “They took initiative and asked some very insightful questions. It was clear that they genuinely wanted to make the most of this as a learning experience.”

The highlight of the program was the two hours the students spent shadowing doctors doing clinical work. The hands-on experience included witnessing procedures such as an ultrasound, a pelvic exam or a colonoscopy, and watching the interactions between doctor and patient.

Student Shanna Gay was moved by hearing the beating heart of an unborn child, which, she said, “made me realize how amazing it is that a woman’s body can transform to make room for another life.”

Fellow classmate Juan Caminero said “I never thought about what doctors do when they leave the room in a check up,” and was intrigued as the doctor recorded details of the visit and discussed the case with other doctors.

Many of the students were surprised at the amount of time doctors spend on paperwork, a fact that did nothing to lessen their enthusiasm for the field of medicine and a career dedicated to helping people.

“The students were amazed and very appreciative that the doctors and the medical students treated them like adults and allowed them to have so many hands-on learning experiences,” said Helpern. “This went beyond anything we could teach from a book and served as a great motivation to all the students.”

As for Fang and his fellow medical school students, the experience is one they hope to repeat. “Most of us can point to someone or some event in our lives that inspired us to become doctors,” he said, “and it would be wonderful if we can provide that sort of inspiration, or at least set a foundation for success in whatever future careers they choose to pursue.”

That inspiration will continue, as the pilot’s success has ensured the program’s continuation into another year.

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