Medical student program in Detroit hopes to inspire future doctors

By Liana Rosenbloom, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 14, 2013

Students at Cass Technical High School in Detroit could be on the fast track to medical school, thanks to a recent partnership with the University.

“Doctors of Tomorrow” is a new program between the Detroit high school and the Medical School funded by the Academic Surgery Development Program as well as the Medical School’s Diversity and Career Development Office. The program gives high-school freshmen the opportunity to attend monthly activities organized by the University and provides them with a medical student mentor.

Jonathon Finks, assistant professor of surgery, is a coordinator for the program. He approached Cass Tech Principal Lisa Phillips in Aug. 2012 in hopes of reaching out to talented students from Detroit.

“I think the University tries to do a good job of getting a diverse class of medical students,” Finks said. “But we really don’t do a great job of attracting talented kids from Detroit.”

Phillips said it was important that students in the program not only have academic success, but a desire to learn and grow.

“We didn’t say, ‘OK, we only want the best and the brightest,’” Phillips said. “I wanted to open it up to students who said, ‘Hey, I want to become a doctor, and I’m a B student. But with this on my resume, it has encouraged and pushed me to excel.’”

The program is made up of about 20 high-school students, mainly freshmen, but also a few seniors who have a strong interest in pursuing a pre-med degree in college.

Finks said another goal of the program is to help students understand “the kind of academic achievement you need to have, that commitment to studying, that sacrifice you have to make,” in order to become a doctor.

The students will be exposed to a variety of introductions to the field of medicine. On Jan. 9, students came to Ann Arbor to take part in a series of simulations similar to those that Medical School students participate in. Students have also attended a panel discussion led by University doctors and medical students, took a tour of University facilities and went through mock exam rooms.

Finks said future activities will include a career day and activities centered on anatomy and global health.

Although the program currently has activities scheduled only through the end of the year, Finks hopes to work with students throughout their remaining years of high school. He said future years may involve undergraduate students from the University serving as guides as the high-schoolers approach college. He also said he hopes to repeat this program for incoming freshman.

Students are working in small groups on their own capstone projects which involve research on a health crisis of their choice in order to understand how they can help reduce occurrences of that condition in their community.

In addition to the hands-on experiences, Cass Tech students have each been paired with a Medical School mentor. Finks said their role is to be accessible to the students, share their experiences and answer any questions they may have.

Medical School student Brittani Jackson said she thinks mentoring is one of the most important parts of this process.

“Even if our conversations aren’t medically related, just to have a presence, and to see someone who is where you would like to go is very important,” Jackson said.

Jackson is proud the University is aiding students from Detroit.

“It says so much that the University of Michigan is making this a priority,” Jackson said. “The fact that they are investing in the future — I’m so excited to be a part of that.”

Cass Tech freshmen Nicole White and Jordan Gregory are participating in the Doctors of Tomorrow program. White said she aspires to be a cosmetic surgeon and Gregory, a veterinary surgeon.

“They give us the knowledge, and we actually get to do the things and practice,” White said. “It’s a good head start.”

“They’re not just introducing us to one type of doctor. They’re introducing us to the entire (medical) world,” Gregory said.

White and Gregory both said they are learning about the college atmosphere in general, not just the field of medicine.

“It’s not just playing around with the tools and learning procedures,” Gregory said.

Phillips said she feels very lucky that her students have this opportunity and hopes they will continue to be empowered by their experiences.

“The thought of having high-profile physicians and med students to take from their day to spend hours with our students giving back to the community speaks volumes to me and to the students.”