This semester, 18-year-old Kylee Rivas has been able to hold a human heart and brain; maneuver an ultrasound machine to view kidneys, hearts and bladders; and practice saving a life with CPR techniques. She also presented a medical case to her high school peers “Grand Rounds” style—mimicking what medical students do while training on the hospital floors.
A Bronx resident who attends the High School for Health Professions and Human Services in Manhattan, Rivas is one of about 100 high school students learning these skills and others at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine (TouroCOM) on 125th Street in Harlem, where they attend labs and lectures after school as part of TouroCOM’s MedAchieve STEM program.
MedAchieve is a two-year “mini medical school” for local students interested in pursuing careers in medicine and other health science professions. Most participants attend public schools nearby, come from low-income households and are the first in their families to aim for college. In keeping with TouroCOM’s mission to increase the number of underrepresented minorities (URM) in medicine, a majority of the students are URMs.
“I love the environment. I love how friendly people are and how we get to experience things in the medical field––how ‘hands-on’ it is,” says Rivas, who has her sights set on becoming a physician. “They make me feel super comfortable and have piqued my interest in the medical field.”
The students meet regularly during the academic year for two hours of lectures, labs and other activities and are mentored one-on-one by TouroCOM’s medical students, who manage the delivery of the curriculum and teach the foundations of medicine. Thirty-three NYC high schools are represented this school year, 19 of which are in Harlem.
Despite the pandemic, MedAchieve has been on a roll: enrollment is growing, the curriculum is evolving, and funding is coming in from outside sources to help support its growth. Recently, the Pinkerton Foundation, which supports science education for underserved youth, agreed to help support MedAchieve with a three-year grant of $50,000. Additionally, Con Edison renewed its support for the second year in a row with a grant.
“I am excited about our newfound partnerships and grateful for their attention,” said Dr. Nadege Dady, dean of student affairs and assistant professor. “It is clear to me that these partners value the importance of student development and creating opportunities for URMs in medicine as much as we do. With their support, the best is yet to come for MedAchieve and its participants.”
Launched in 2012, the two-year program is split into two tracks. For the first year, “MedStart,” the content is focused on learning the foundations of medicine: human anatomy, physiology and genetics. For the second year, “MedExcel,” the emphasis is on how the body responds to stress, injury and disease.
Like Rivas, 15-year-old London Francis, who attends Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics in East Harlem, says the MedAchieve experience has increased her interest in the field of medicine and becoming a physician. She says the program has also made her more aware of the need for more URMs in medicine.
“If there were more people of color in the medical field, people of color would be more prone to come in and be diagnosed,” says Francis. “MedAchieve has made me more aware I can be one of those people that other people can look up to and can feel comfortable with.”
London’s TouroCOM DO student mentor Noelle Osei-Tutu volunteered to be a MedAchieve mentor as soon as she began medical school.
“I jumped at the chance to help because a lot of us have gone through the struggles that they may also face,” said Osei-Tutu. “It’s been a great experience. It’s given me an opportunity to inspire young minds and motivate them, and just keep pushing them towards where they want to go. The sky’s the limit. It’s hard. But with help, determination and persistence anything is possible.”
For more information on TouroCOM visit https://tourocom.touro.edu/.