Milwaukee high school students with aspirations to work in health care took a hands-on trip to their futures last week.
Nearly two dozen students from James Madison Academic Campus, an MPS charter high school, visited the Medical College of Wisconsin as part of their participation in 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. A mentor program, in part, the goal is to identify students interested in health careers and assist them in bridging the gap between their career aspirations and realization of those careers.
Medical students at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) choose an educational “pathway” as part of their education. Randal Harris, a third year medical student, and Lauren Splittberger and Ginger Smith, both second year students, are enrolled in the Urban and Community Health Pathway. The three lead the partnership program between MCW and AHEC, which involves mentoring students at James Madison High School, arranging visits from health professionals, and setting up hands-on instruction opportunities for the high school students.
“We want to positively impact the choices in these students’ lives,” said Harris, a Detroit native. “If you don’t have the resources, it can be challenging. This program is designed to open the doors to opportunities.”
During their trip to the Medical College’s STAR center, a training resource in which medical students have the opportunity to diagnose and treat simulated, computer-programmed “patients,” the students from James Madison listened to beating hearts, took blood pressure readings, examined damaged eyes and diagnosed ear infections.
Bria Outlaw, a 17-year old senior at James Madison, said she was surprised at the high level of technicality in the standardized patients, and found the program engaging.
“This helps me on the path to accomplish my goals,” Outlaw said. “I see more women and minorities in health care, which is good, but we still have a long way to go.”
Outlaw, who is currently applying to local colleges, plans to become a dentist.
Other students in the program aspire to become physicians, registered nurses, physicians’ assistants, certified nursing assistants, and other, specialized fields such as radiologic technicians.
In addition to participating in the AHEC education program, the YHSC students take part in volunteer projects that address community health needs.
Suzanne Letellier, the program manager for Milwaukee AHEC, said the program helps build connections to the community.
“Volunteering serves many needs for these students, and the community in which they work. They get real-life exposure to their desired fields, their confidence grows, and they network with mentors who can help them realize their goals,” Letellier said.
Milwaukee AHEC started its YHSC program in the fall of 2007 and it has since grown exponentially. A total of 78 at three high schools and one community center volunteer in hospital and health clinic sites as well as community health outreach projects.
Mary Ellen Lalleo teaches the “Occupations in Health Care” classes at John Madison. She said her students all have a real passion for health care, and that the partnership with the Medical College’s medical students in the Urban and Community Pathway, is a win-win.
“The medical students are meeting every month with our kids, and really taking them along their journey,” said Lalleo.
The disparity in health care extends beyond those seeking care. The American Association of Medical Colleges reported that in 2008, African Americans accounted for 16 percent of the U.S. population, but only six percent of physicians. Racial and ethnic minority practitioners are more likely to practice in medically underserved areas, serving a population who are uninsured and underinsured. Which is why, said Dr. Linda Meurer, the director of the Urban and Community Pathway at MCW, community partnerships are crucial.
“The pathway links education with community needs to address disparities in healthcare access and quality in urban settings, and health conditions that disproportionately affect urban, underserved populations,” said Dr. Meurer.
Dr. Meurer explained the goals of the pathway include developing educational strategies to promote healthy behaviors in individuals and communities, and partnering with public health and community agencies to meet healthcare needs.
“Our medical students get to know the community through working with the kids. They learn how to create age and culturally relevant educational materials and collaborate with schools and area agencies, while also serving to teach and inspire the next generation of health care professionals in those underserved communities,” Dr. Meurer added.
For more information about Milwaukee AHEC and the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Urban and Community Pathway program, visit: