Twenty-one ninth- and 10th-graders from Roanoke County and City schools visited Virginia Tech’s campus earlier this summer to participate in a four-day capstone experience through the Health Professions Enrichment Program (HPEP), aimed at exposing students to the variety of health careers available, whether the patients are humans or animals.

All of Virginia Tech colleges, now including the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine (VTCSOM), have youth engagement and outreach initiatives that help pave a student’s path to college.

Students passionate about science and health-related careers were invited to be a part of the on-campus summer residential program to enhance their exposure to and knowledge of Science, Technology, Engineering, Math, and Health disciplines (STEM-H), as well as heighten awareness of career opportunities in the health professions. 

Forty students from a pool of 144 applicants were selected to be a part of this inaugural cohort, with the expectation that they would remain fully engaged with the program from January to May, beginning with three Saturday sessions at the Virginia Tech Health Sciences and Technology Campus in Roanoke, Virginia. These sessions provided hands-on, minds-on opportunities to learn about medical careers, problem-based learning, teamwork, conflict-resolution, and utilizing your strengths.

It was during these Saturday sessions that students got to learn more about each other and create connections based on their interest areas.

“HPEP is just one of the VTSCOM and College Access Collaborative initiatives that aims to diversify the physician workforce,” said Karen Eley Sanders, associate vice provost for college access. “Research confirms that individuals who are underrepresented in the health professions are more likely to serve medically underserved communities.”

On the day of final presentation, Sanders was met with a sea of hands when she asked the students if they still had an interest in becoming a health care professional. “We are depending on you to ensure that doctors, nurses, dentists, veterinarians, and health professionals in all communities are as diverse as the students in this room.”

Students made it well known with a show of hands that they were even more determined to pursue a career in the health care profession.
Karen Sanders, associate vice provost for college access, was met with an enthusiastic sea of hands from students regarding their determination to pursue a career in the health care profession.

During the on-site campus visit, the group of 21 was divided into three groups — Team Heart, Team Brain, and Team Lungs — to work on retired medical cases during dedicated group work time each day, culminating with final presentations on the last day.

This process mirrors the problem-based learning approach utilized by faculty and students at VTCSOM. Elvir Berbic, student affairs manager at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, facilitated the exercise. “The students learned that it takes a team to effectively implement high-quality health care, considering all variables and a variety of different perspectives. It truly requires students to put their problem-solving skills to work.”

Elvir Berbic, student affairs manager at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine,  emphasizes the importance of working as a team for the problem-based learning exercises.Students illustrate the problem-based learning approach while preparing for their final team presentations.
Students illustrate the problem-based learning approach while preparing for their final team presentations.

The on-campus visit included the DNA Extraction and Genome Facility tour at the Biocomplexity Institute, as well as a tour and activity at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.

In addition, students attended college preparatory presentations and learned about the variety of resources on campus, including tours of Cook Counseling CenterSchiffert Health Center, and to Hokie Wellness and Recreational Sports.

“It was so good to hear about the importance of taking care of ourselves so we can take care of others from the Hokie Wellness staff, “ said Aida Doucoure, a rising junior at Cave Spring High School in Roanoke County.

Hokie Wellness and Recreational Sports shared the importance of self care to these rising college students.
Recreational Sports and Hokie Wellness stressed the importance of self care, sharing activities and opportunities available to Virginia Tech students.

Alison Stoeher, a rising junior at William Byrd High School, said she has always been interested in medical school. “What I found eye-opening was to learn more about the Virginia Tech admissions process and also about financial aid opportunities.”

Moving forward, the goal is to expand the program to include at least one additional medically underserved community in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Association of American Medical Colleges, according to Sanders, expects medical schools to take active steps to help diversify the physician workforce.

Lasting connections were made during the Health Professions Enrichment Program, with students taking time to enjoy their final team presentations.
Lasting connections were made during the Health Professions Enrichment Program, with students taking time to enjoy their final team presentations.

Applications are currently being accepted for the 2019 program, consisting of three Saturday dates (Jan. 19, March 9, and May 18) from 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at the Virginia Tech Health Sciences and Technology Campus. The Virginia Tech summer residential program is June 19-22, 2019. A teacher or counselor must nominate students by referring them to the application form.

For more information, contact the program coordinator, Karyna Nevarez at 540-526-2161 or karynad@vt.edu.