Medical Scholars Program continues to engage local high school students

Medical scholar students learn how to take care of babies.Since 2015, Brenau University’s Ivester College of Health Sciences has been providing hands-on learning experiences for students from local high schools through the Medical Scholars Program. There are 11 public and private high schools in Gainesville and Hall County included in the program, along with Dawson County High School.

This academic year, the 69 area juniors and seniors in the program will spend several days on Brenau campuses learning alongside faculty and students in occupational therapy, physical therapy, psychology, physician assistant studies, nursing and science programs. Overall, the Medical Scholars Program has engaged with more than 300 students.

“I’ve always felt it was incredibly important to open up the students’ vision of what health care is,” said Gale Starich, dean of the Ivester College of Health Sciences. “Most of them think it’s medicine or nursing, but there are so many other avenues. This program allows students to make better decisions based on actually knowing what the work and careers are like.”

While the Medical Scholars Program in the past only included high school juniors, seniors are participating this year since the program was postponed in 2020. In another first, Brenau’s clinical and science students are also offering support and assistance as the high school students learn how to dress wounds, administer shots and work with patients.

This is also the first year Brenau’s Physician Assistant Studies department, which launched in January, is part of the program. Kyrus Patch, assistant PA program director and associate professor, worked closely with the Medical Scholars.

“Hosting high school students interested in the health professions is a golden opportunity to educate them on the role of the physician assistant on the health care team,” Patch said. “PA students actively engaged the high school students in the performance of the physical examination and mentored them through lively discussions of the PA profession.”

Medical scholar students learn how to take care of patients.The Medical Scholars Program started as part of Brenau’s Firespark! summer camp and eventually evolved into a full academic year. Starich, who initiated similar programs while working at previous universities, said it is important to show students the ins and outs of health care as well as how diverse workers are needed.

“A program like this is important because it shows students who aren’t as familiar with the clinical education about how they might be able to find it,” Starich said. “I ran into one of the medical scholars who ended up here at Brenau. She said, ‘I just love this school and never thought I could afford it.’”

That student wasn’t the only one finding success in college. Starich works with The Foothills Area Health Education Center and the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce to select Medical Scholars participants and determine programming.

The programming includes opportunities for the students to have fun learning, such as a “zombie apocalypse” held at the end of the program one year. Each health care program developed its own zombie experience to test the students’ skills in areas including occupational and physical therapy, nursing and diagnosis.

The finale of the program each year is a graduation ceremony that allows the group to bond one last time, Starich said.

“During the small graduation ceremony, they finally had the opportunity to bond across high schools, get their picture taken, and leave Brenau with a better sense of the myriad of careers in healthcare,” Starich said.