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School of Medicine discoveries

July 27, 2011

High school students learn what it takes to be a doctor

A bevy of summer programs gives high school and college students the chance to explore their interest in a medical or science career.

So you think you want to be a doctor?

An intensive four-week program answers that question for up to 30 rising juniors and seniors from high schools around Virginia. For a month, they explore their interest in a medical career, getting a firsthand look at what it takes to be a physician through the lens of the Virginia Governor’s School for Life Sciences and Medicine.

Sachith Gullapalli

Sachith Gullapalli

Housed at VCU, the highly competitive program is the most selective of the state’s seven Summer Residential Governor’s Schools. This year, 150 applicants were considered for just 26 openings.

A rising junior at Roanoke’s Hidden Valley High School, Sachith Gullapalli had an interest in medicine, but hadn’t been so sure about pursuing it as a career. His volunteer work at his local veterans hospital had placed him in a health-care environment, “but not as close to seeing what doctors are doing” as his Governor’s School experience. Citing the chance for a firsthand view of doctor-patient interaction, attending procedures and rounding through the ICU, he says “this month made me more interested.”

He says he was most surprised by the amount of collaboration that goes into patient care. In the Neuro ICU, he saw “huge teams managing different aspects of a patient’s care, pharmacists, anesthesiologists, neurosurgeons, all discussing the patient’s treatment.”

Marina Girgis

Marina Girgis

Before arriving at the bedside, though, the Governor’s School challenges students with three weeks of classroom-based case studies. Experts from VCU, its Medical Center and the Virginia Department of Health lead students in looking at health care from the vantage points of patient, scientist and community. Students are asked to play the physician’s role: obtaining medical histories, developing differential diagnoses, selecting diagnostic tests, interpreting physical exam findings and lab results and, ultimately, creating a treatment plan. Along the way, they pick up molecular techniques, problem-solving diagnostics and an understanding of public health and epidemiological statistics.

Week four culminates in real-life application as students head into the hospital for three days of shadowing physicians in various disciplines. “Without exposure to actual hospitalized patients, their health care providers, and the diagnostic/treatment process, all learning would remain merely an academic exercise,” says Jeanne Minetree, director of the 2011 Virginia Governor’s School for Life Sciences and Medicine. “The shadowing experience is the capstone, a catalyst for student comprehension of how art and science blend to form the practice of medicine.”

Sachith Gullapalli, Marina Girgis and Kevin Cooper, M.D.,

High school students Sachith Gullapalli and Marina Girgis shadowed pulmonologist Kevin Cooper, M.D., a professor of internal medicine and a mentor for Governor’s School students. Their time in the VCU Medical Center’s ICUs and clinics provided a real life application of their classroom study.

That was the case for Marina Girgis, a rising senior at Henrico’s Godwin High School. She thinks that the public may have a glamorized idea of medicine, imagining that physicians “look at patients and get an answer right away. It’s not that clear cut.” In her Governor’s School experience, she got an idea of how instead they “work through problems and possible solutions through teamwork.”

She hopes to use her last year of high school to volunteer at the Massey Cancer Center or pursue more shadowing experiences with physicians to get a better sense of whether medicine is the career for her.

The Virginia Governor’s School for Life Sciences and Medicine is sponsored by VCU Life Sciences under the leadership of Vice Provost Thomas F. Huff, Ph.D. Susan Haynes, administrator of the Department of Surgery’s education programs, coordinates the program’s shadowing experiences, with participation from physicians with Internal Medicine, Neurosurgery, Orthopaedic Surgery, Otolaryngology, Surgery and Telemedicine. Medical school faculty interested in volunteering with the program can contact Haynes at 828-1141 or schaynes@vcu.edu.

Learn more about the Virginia Governor’s School for Life Sciences and Medicine.

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Updated: 04/29/2016