Apodaca: The solution to doctor shortage is students

August 04, 2012|By Patrice Apodaca
  • Kylie Mulvaney, 17, a Corona del Mar High School senior practices putting in a central line on a dummy during the Summer Premed Program at UC Irvine School of Medicine on July 27.
Kylie Mulvaney, 17, a Corona del Mar High School senior… (SCOTT SMELTZER )

Medical industry sources estimate that the United States faces a potential shortage of 150,000 doctors in the next 15 years. If true, that unwelcome proposition makes it more important than ever to encourage today's youth to pursue an education in medicine.

But how do we spark their interest?

A few years ago, Dr. Behnoosh Afghani had an idea. The UC Irvine pediatrics professor wanted to find a way to expose high school students to the medical school experience.

Her thinking wasn't entirely new. Plenty of colleges offer health-care themed programs for younger students.

But Afghani wanted to take the concept a step further by immersing the teenagers in realistic, hands-on training that might serve to whet their appetites for more.

Thus, the UCI School of Medicine's Summer Pre-med Program was born, and it's proving to be a stunning success and a model that other universities would do well to emulate.


In its first year, in 2010, 30 students attended the two-week program. This summer, 140 high school kids took part over two sessions. Demand was so great that many applicants had to be turned away.

What makes UCI's program for teens so special?

The difference is the insistence by Afghani and teams from various campus organizations that helped plan the curriculum that the participants learn about the medical field, not just through lectures and watching others perform procedures. They wanted to fully engage the kids by giving them a taste of the same type of training that medical students undergo.

"Why are they studying physics or chemistry?" Afghani said. "We do projects on diabetes and different diseases. They learn about how what they learn in school applies, and it motivates them."

I visited one morning recently when the kids were in the university's Medical Education Simulation Center, a state-of-the-art facility that uses life-size, computer-controlled mannequins as stand-ins for real patients. The teenagers, dressed in white lab coats and assisted by pre-med and medical students, gathered in groups to learn how to perform various procedures.

At one station, the kids performed intubations, which involved inserting plastic breathing tubes into the throats of "patients" that had stopped breathing. Cheers and high-fives broke out when one boy, after several failed attempts, successfully intubated his patient under the time limit.

I recognized one of the students, 17-year-old Olivia Dajee, a Corona del Mar High School senior who I've known since she was in kindergarten.

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