The smell of formaldehyde hung thickly in the warm afternoon air in the lab.
Kody Finstad concentrated intently on his patient, scalpel hovering over the foot. The room grew hushed except for a few good-natured jabs from the crowd surrounding him.
“Just make a design,” one student joked. “Write your name,” another commented.
After making a deft slice with the scalpel, Finstad demonstrated proper suture technique with his needle while students watched. He then sent them to practice on their own, and the lab fell silent as the students, some fascinated, some disgusted, concentrated intently on the task before them.
“You watch them on ‘ER,’ and they just whoop right through this,” Sikeston High School senior Chelsea Grigery said quietly to the rest of her group after experiencing some difficulty.
Their patients didn’t feel any pain though, since the students were practicing on embalmed pigs’ feet.
The students weren’t attending medical school class either. The suture lab, part of the second day of the MU School of Medicine’s Mini Medical School, was meant to give the Missouri high school students a taste of what they might learn in medical school. The 6-year-old recruitment program is led by six second-year MU medical students that serve as counselors. The counselors work together to plan the specific programs throughout the week, counselor Christina Byron said.
“It’s cool because it really is just like med school wrapped up in a week ... the best parts anyway,” counselor Janielle Bachelder said. “I wish I knew about it when I was a student.”
About 60 students, who are staying in Johnston Hall, will participate in the two one-week sessions. The selection criteria for the program includes grade point average, ACT scores and the students’ personal essays. While at MU, the students will work in the anatomy and the microbiology labs, listen to lectures by faculty physicians and participate in problem-based learning, among other activities, Admissions Evaluator Laura Carroz said.
“It’s not your typical summer camp,” she said. “The days are long, but there are fun activities in the evening.”
Activities include a scavenger hunt, trivia and outdoor games on Stankowski Field, Carroz said.
Rock Bridge High School senior Shawn Sahota said that though the days are tiring, the experience has been worth it.
“We stay up ’til about 2 o’clock every night, or 1:30ish. We have to wake up at about 7 the next morning,” he said. “I mean, we’re only here for five days, so we make the most of it.”
Sahota, who said he has always wanted to be a doctor, said many of the late nights were spent interacting with other students and with counselors, such as Finstad.
Byron said the experience has been fulfilling for counselors as well.
“I hope that we can stay in touch with these kids ... whenever they need a recommendation or when they need some advice on where they should apply to school,” she said. “I think it’s good for us to see where they’re at and remind us where we came from and how far we’ve actually come.”
The students also learn from each other with problem-based learning, Sahota said.
“It’s completely unique in that we get to figure the problems out as a group and kind of expand your area of knowledge,” he said. “You have to figure out the different areas without actually knowing what you’re looking for. You learn about several diseases, several different procedures while focusing on one specific patient.”
The problem-based learning curriculum, which was adopted in 1993 and is similar to medical school curriculum, allows students to work together on case studies and apply proper medical science.
In addition to the influence from his father and guidance counselor, Sahota said part of his decision to attend was shaped by a friend who attended the program three years ago.
Seymour High School senior Whitney Wilkins, whose guidance counselor told her about the program, said it was hard to pick which activity was her favorite so far.
“It’s nothing in particular,” she said. “It’s just the whole experience of getting to be with people that are interested in the same things.”
Wilkins, who would like to be a family physician in a rural area, said even the difficult activities have been good, such as a visit to the gross anatomy lab where students learn the basics of anatomy.
“I went to the cadaver lab the first night and it’s interesting,” she said. “You have to be expecting to deal with it, otherwise it’s kind of hard.”
Grigery said she enjoyed the uniqueness of the program.
“I love doing this stuff, I love hearing about it, and you don’t get to see or hear about this stuff very often,” she said. Working with other high school students has also been a highlight for Grigery.
“The kids here, they’re just amazing,” Grigery said. “It’s so much fun, and it gives me so much enthusiasm to work with kids that I know it’s something they’re interested in. It’s a breath of fresh air to get to work with that.”
Byron said she and the other counselors like to give their perspectives and advice to the students.
“It’s great to see kids who are really interested in medicine,” she said. “To see them really excited about their futures and the process of getting into medical school and getting through college.”