Hands-on learning at JABSOM summer program inspires youth interested in healthcare careers

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With the buds of the stethoscope tucked into her ears, Mary Joy "MJ" Velasquez listens intently for the lub-dub sounds of the heart while she learns to manually take a medical student’s blood pressure. A smile spreads across her face as she finds the sound she was looking for. 

Velasquez, an incoming junior at Lahainaluna High School, hopes that her summer at the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) will prepare her for entering medical school and one day, becoming a physician in her hometown. She recalls flying to Oʻahu many times during her childhood just to receive medical care that wasn’t readily available to her on Maui. As the 2023 Hawaiʻi Physician Workforce Report details a 43% shortage of specialty physicians on Maui, Velasquez dreams of becoming an MD specialist to help reduce that gap for families, like hers. 

She is one of 82 high school students enrolled in a weeklong experience known as the “Medical Diagnosis and Treatment Summer Program” at JABSOM. The program provides hands-on learning opportunities at JABSOM for students grades 10-12,  interested in pursuing a career in healthcare.

“I really enjoyed problem-based learning (PBL)-- I feel like that would eventually help me out in the future because thinking like a doctor now will help build me up as a doctor in the future and I’ll get into that mindset quickly,” said Mabea De Guzman, an incoming senior at Maui High School. PBL is a student-centered approach to solving clinical cases through collaboration with others in group discussion, investigation and research– a pedagogy widely used at US medical schools, including JABSOM. 

Aside from lessons in PBL facilitated by JABSOM faculty, the students will also spend time in the Anatomy Lab, interact with manikins in the SimTiki Simulation Center as well as learn to interview and counsel patients through mock patient encounters in the Clinical Skills Lab. Throughout the week, students will also gain skills in suturing wounds, splinting, CPR and more–  providing them with an experience previously exclusive to current medical students and physicians. 

“I liked the tours, doing PBL and also getting to know the other people more,” said De Guzman, who described the first day as very engaging. She hopes to one day, be the first in her family to attend a U.S. college and eventually become a cardiothoracic surgeon. “Growing up (on Maui), the doctors there– they were mainly the reason why I wanted to become a doctor,” she said. 

Both Velasquez and De Guzman are also part of the Neighbor Island Medical Scholars Program, through which their participation in the MDT program, roundtrip flights, as well as room and board for the entire week are provided for by generous donors. The program was created to address the critical neighbor island physician shortage by giving nine neighbor island high school students exposure to the healthcare field and providing them with resources to overcome various barriers to pursuing a career in medicine. This program is dear to medical student Ryan Shontell, PhD, one of many JABSOM medical students that graciously dedicated their time and mentorship to the high school students all week long.

“Coming from the neighbor islands, I grew up in Kohala on the Big Island, and just not having access to these things (like the MDT Program) growing up-- I want to be able to give back to fellow rural, neighbor-island students,” said Shontell. “The thing that I want to really impart on these students is that we're disadvantaged students from very rural communities with limited access to not only these kinds of things, but also medical care in general, which is really a shame– but it is what you make of things.”

Shontell enjoyed sharing his time and the knowledge that he’s gained at JABSOM with the high school students. He hopes that by sharing his nontraditional pathway to medicine, it will encourage them towards pursuing their own unique journeys in healthcare and beyond. 

“I want to make sure these kids understand that they can do it, they can do all these great things… that they don't have to have a cookie cutter journey,” Shontell said.