Doctor Camp and Camp Medical Detectives Get Kids Excited About Careers in Medicine

Release Date: 
Jun 8 2012

By Kevin Fryling

The excited sound of middle and late elementary school children echoed through the halls on the third floor of the VanNuys Medical Science Building on June 4 as students from Grades 5 to 7 poured into a classroom to participate in Doctor Camp, an annual project co-sponsored by the Indiana University School of Medicine Office of Medical Service-Learning.

The daylong event, which aims to interest children from across Indianapolis in careers in science and medicine, kicked off with a crash course in conducting a basic physical during a workshop led by medical and doctoral students from the IU School of Medicine. More than 20 volunteers, who also included undergraduate students from the Purdue School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, were among the instructors and "camp counselors" at this year's Doctor Camp and at Camp Medical Detectives, a related program on June 5 and 6 for high school students.

Students had to learn how to handle fluids that are part of physical examinations.

Involved in medicine

"Our goal is to give the kids a taste of what it's like to be involved in medicine, either as a medical student or as a student in one of the other related fields, such as paramedic science and laboratory science," said Enola Okonkwo, a second-year medical student at the IU School of Medicine and co-director of this year's event. "The program is really designed to target minority students and attract them to the health care field."

Doctor Camp participants included more than 30 children from schools such as Francis Scott Key Elementary School (Indianapolis Public School 103) and Indian Creek Elementary School in Indianapolis; Woodbrook Elementary School in Carmel, Ind.; and Kingsway Christian School in Avon, Ind. This is the 12th annual Doctor Camp and the sixth annual Camp Medical Detectives, in which nearly 20 high school students from across Indianapolis are participating. This is the first year in which IUPUI students also joined as volunteers.

Jarrod Hubbard, a fifth-grader at IPS 103, came to Doctor Camp with his twin brother, Jarred, through a separate mentorship project at his school that connects kids interested in medicine with professionals in fields such as medicine, nursing and veterinary science.

"I'm interested in medicine, biology and diseases," Jarrod said. "It's exciting to be here and learning about how to be doctor."

When I grow up...

Another student who wants to be a doctor was sixth-grader Linaizisa McNeal, who said that she and classmate Andrea Dickerson also had learned about different health career paths through the medical mentor program at IPS 103. Jennifer Latowksi, a special education teacher from IPS 103 and event chaperone, noted that the school had made a field trip to Doctor Camp the capstone event of the program.

Also excited to participate in the camp was Autumn Stringer, a fifth-grader at Kingsway Christian School, whose interest in biology sprang from a slightly different career ambition.

"When I grow up I want to be veterinarian," she said. She also noted that "it's really good to get to learn about the body and all its different parts -- and to make new friends."

Visiting students used a 'doctor bag' (in purple) to help them conduct their exams. Abinay Devarakonda, a fifth-grader at Woodbrook Elementary School, was excited by the chance to meet others who share his interest in science, medicine and "doing experiments."

"It's fun meeting people other interested in science," he said, adding that his favorite part of the physical exam workshop was learning how to listen to the heart and test the reflex in the knee. Each student in the program received a purple "doctor bag" with a stethoscope, reflex hammer, scrub tops and degree program information, which they kept after the event.

A lesson in laboratory research

In addition to the physical exam workshop, students participated in a laboratory tour, pathology and anatomy laboratory sessions, and a science lecture by Corinne Ulbright, Ph.D., a biology lecturer in the School of Science at IUPUI who has won several teaching awards. The anatomy and pathology workshops, led by IU School of Medicine student Francesco Cardelli and held in the IUPUI Engineering/Science and Technology Building, provided an opportunity to explore models of the human kidney and unravel a "medical mystery," in which students were challenged to diagnose a fictional patient based on the results of a test performed using synthetic urine.

"We chose to focus on the kidney since it's very accessible; so many kids know someone with diabetes," said Melissa Douglas, a second-year medical student at the IU School of Medicine and co-director of Doctor Camp and Camp Medical Detectives. "We really redesigned the whole curriculum this year to include more interactive elements. The kids have been very engaged."

David Fitch, a fourth-year medical student at IU School of Medicine who led students in the morning session, agreed. "They're a great group, a lot of enthusiasm," he said, adding that his involvement in the program was a reaction to "the news that not enough people are going into science, or research, or medicine."

"If you can get one more kid to consider science and medicine," he said, "I think it's worthwhile."

Other student instructors from the IU School of Medicine were Lauren Courtney, a third-year medical student; Rishi Megha, a second-year medical student from IU School of Medicine-Muncie; and Steve Messina, a doctoral candidate. Doctor Camp and Camp Medical Detectives are co-sponsored by the IU School of Medicine Office of Medical Service-Learning, Metropolitan Indianapolis-Central Indiana Area Health Education Center, IU School of Medicine Health Professions Programs and the School of Science at IUPUI.