The smell of preserving chemicals was thick in a campus laboratory as a group of future medical students inspected their first cadaver and sutured cuts in pigs’ feet.
“I think this program has made my decision to go into medicine final,” said Alex Lohman, 17, of Oregon, Mo., as he leaned over one of the pigs’ feet.
The 36 high school students from all over Missouri are the second group of two weeklong sessions of the Mini-Medical School, hosted by MU’s School of Medicine.
The students live on campus for a week and experience some of what it would be like to be a first-year medical student.
The majority of their time is spent working on a problem-based learning case assigned at the beginning of the week, but students get to participate in various activities.
The problem-based learning approach is based on the curriculum followed by students in the Medical School: Students receive a problem for which they must determine tests to run and eventually find a proper treatment.
Laura Carroz, admissions evaluator for the Medical School and coordinator of the Mini-Medical School, said the problem-based learning approach is unique because in many medical schools the learning is based entirely on a lecture format.
MU’s Medical School adopted the curriculum in 1993.
The problem posed to this year’s mini-medical school students deals with a teenage pregnancy leading to a premature birth. The students receive pages detailing problems and must decide what to do. They spend nights in the library learning more about the problem.
Six second-year medical students serve as counselors to the students. They stay with them throughout the week and reside with them in a dorm. The counselors can lend a little help to students as they work out their case, but Carroz said the students mostly lead themselves.
Jessica Jellison, a second-year medical school student, said she enjoys being a counselor because it is fun to share ideas with the students.
“It’s neat to see high school kids so interested in medicine,” Jellison said.
Students in the program are typically entering their senior year of high school and are selected based on standardized test scores, grade point average, a school recommendation and a personal statement explaining why the student would like to participate. The program costs $450 per student for the week.
During the days, the students hear lectures on various subjects or participate in labs. Some pertain to the case they are working on for the week, and some, such as the suture lab, are just designed to give more advance medical experience. Lecture topics range from plastic surgery to infectious diseases and sexually transmitted diseases. The lab work deals with physical exam skills and surgery skills.
Alisa Hopkins, 17, of St. Charles, said she is enjoying the program not only because of what she is learning but because of the people she has met.
“It’s really fun being with people who enjoy the same thing you enjoy,” she said.