Northeast Ohio Medical University has a mission of training family physicians, so a recent Family Medicine Education Consortium (FMEC) Conference in Pittsburgh was a great opportunity for high school students like me who are affiliated with NEOMED through its Health Professions Affinity Community (HPAC).
Students in HPAC, a program started in 2012 by NEOMED’s Gina Weisblat, Ph.D., and Erik Porfeli, Ph.D., identify and carry out projects in their own communities that will improve community health. Participating in HPAC gives students who are considering a career in health care a closer look at professions in the field, including family medicine. When a group of HPAC students was invited to attend the FEMC Conference, we jumped at the opportunity—even though we weren’t exactly sure what we had signed up for.
Dr. Weisblat made sure we took advantage of every opportunity. She challenged us to collect business cards, as a symbol of the importance of making connections and reaching out to professionals in their field of interest. Though there was no prize for the person who collected the most cards, we still took the challenge seriously and introduced ourselves to consortium attendees.
“Our group talked to one of the FMEC board members and gave him the business card for our project so his wife can contact us about our program. He was from Virginia, so it’s awesome for our group to connect and share our project with people from other states,” said HPAC member Gianna Polichena.
My group, like the students from Theodore Roosevelt High School in Kent whose project was titled “Preventing Sneez-inal Diseases,” was invited by HPAC representatives to the conference because we received awards at HPAC’s annual Scholar’s Day event in April. We presented projects at the main poster session, right alongside family medicine physicians, residents and medical students. Questions and conversations with the medical students, health professionals and FMEC board members who visited our displays helped us learn about the health care profession.
Health care professionals we met were shocked to realize that we were only in high school. It was fun to see that our professionalism made us seem like medical students.
Terry Slattery, who teaches athletic health care and fitness tech prep at Theodore Roosevelt High, said that a parent had called him afterward to thank him for this opportunity for her son, who participates in HPAC. She said her son came home more excited than he had ever been about an academic opportunity and was now talking about medicine as a profession.
All of our newly acquired knowledge will help us in our efforts to solve local community issues. For some in our group of about 50 high school, college and medicine students, this was also the first time to visit the city of Pittsburgh. The chance to see a major city was a bonus. We definitely left the conference with more connections and a deeper understanding of what the practice of family medicine means in a community.
—Gabrielle Biltz is a senior at Bio-Med Science Academy and an intern in the NEOMED Office of Public Relations and Marketing.