- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—Before the high schoolers last week could diagnose their patient, who had come in with liver issues, they had to figure out how the liver works.

There were the hepatic veins and the hepatic artery — but how were they related? Could the connections among the blood vessels shed light on this man’s condition?

In one room at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, eight high school juniors and seniors in the medical school’s inaugural MEDacademy high school summer program searched for answers on their phones, tablets, and laptops.

A senior from Timber Creek High School broke the silence. “OK,” he said tentatively. “Well, I found this article …”

Pulling the article up on a large TV screen, Zaire Sanders, 17, of Sicklerville, described how blood flows to the liver from the hepatic artery and portal vein, and leaves the gland from the hepatic veins.

“Yes! Yes!” said Naja Lopez, 16, of Haddonfield Memorial High School.

Standing at the board, she drew arrows from one word to the next, mapping the system out.

“It’s so confusing,” Lopez said. “It’s easier to see in a cadaver vs., like, laying it out in a diagram.”

No one said medical school was easy.

But for the 30 students who have spent the last four weeks attending lectures, tours, small group sessions, workshops, and working on research projects, the summer program was a useful real-world glimpse of the journey toward becoming a doctor.

“I want to gain knowledge of how med school actually works, and this depicts that in a way,” said Brielle DiFranceisco, 17, of Mullica Hill, who will be a senior at Padua Academy in Wilmington. “I mean, it’s not as intense — you don’t have all the pressure and the grading and stuff like that — but it’s just a way for me to learn about the whole process, and have the experience before I go to college, and make sure this is something that I actually want to do.”

In developing MEDacademy, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University officials decided to create a mini medical-school experience, alongside the types of tours and talks more traditionally found in medical-exposure programs.

Tuition is $2,500 and students must complete an application that includes two letters of recommendation and an official high school transcript. Students must have a grade-point average of at least 3.3 and demonstrate an interest in medicine.

For those students, the ones who are excelling at science and math and dream of being physicians, MEDacademy can show them what it takes to get to that future, said Anne Green, the program’s director.

“Many of the students we spoke to came in and they wanted to become doctors, but they didn’t know what it takes,” she said.

Most mornings begin with a grand rounds lecture, focusing on a different topic each week: cardiology, neurology, pathology, gastroenterology.

The high school students then break into “active learning groups,” a case-study-based system like the ones the medical students themselves are assigned to during the year: seven or eight students, applying what they have learned in lecture and self-study as they diagnose a patient.

“Every week is a different system. This week is GI,” said Saba Qadir, 24, a second-year medical student who helped lead the program. “So in lecture we were learning everything about GI, and so our ALG cases relate to that in some way.”

After looking up various new words, defining them on the white board, the students study the normal anatomy of various organs.

Then, Qadir and the other medical students lead them through figuring out what can go wrong.

“We were trying to put together every symptom that he has, and put together what he may have, what disease, and what his symptoms turn into,” said Sanders, the student who had looked up how blood flows in and out of the liver.

At first, the students would look to the medical students — they know the answers, after all — but they would push back.

Asked about low blood pressure, Qadir smiles and points two fingers back at the student: “I’m going to throw that back to you. What do you think?”

In the case of the patient with liver issues, his heavy drinking had done him in.

On the white board behind Qadir, the students had written six possibilities from their differential diagnosis. The very first one: alcoholic liver disease.

Another successful diagnosis.

Several students said they had already wanted to be doctors before the program, but four weeks of junior medical school had shown them how to get there and solidified their dreams.

“It exposes you to how medical school really is, compared to how people explain to you what it is,” Sanders said. “People explain to you, saying it’s horrible, everybody drops out, and coming here, you’re exposed to how the day is, how every day is. Here, everybody’s happy.”

The program could also create a pipeline into the medical school, promoting the school to students who otherwise might not apply there or even consider it.

“I don’t know if it’s something that I would have even thought about,” one student said. Another said she was “strongly considering” applying to Cooper Medical School of Rowan University one day.

One day.

But first, of course, they’ll have to finish high school.

[email protected]

856-779-3220 @elaijuh

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