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Beline Obeid
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Class at North opens door to medical careers


Mary Anne Brush Staff Writer

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Aiyana Badih watches a graph on the computer as it registers different reaction times when the knee is tapped versus voluntary reaction times. Photo by Renee Landuyt
March 16, 2017
Nadya Herfi witnessed her first obstetrical delivery as a high school senior. Standing next to her in the delivery room was a first-year resident, also observing a delivery for the first time.

The Grosse Pointe North High School student had this experience so early in her education because she enrolled in North's Applied Medical Research with Clinical Investigations course. Consisting of mostly seniors, the yearlong class gives students opportunities to conduct experiments as well as shadow physicians and nurses at local hospitals. Shadowing began in October with the last rotation in March.

"The whole goal of the program was that we know there's going to be a shortage of physicians and nurses in our country. We know that for a fact," said Sue Speirs, who has taught the course since it was approved as a pilot class for the 2007-08 school year. "And we want to make sure we can increase that pool."

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Photo by Renee Landuyt Abhinav Nannapaneni tests Augie Sonaglia's knee for reflex and voluntary reaction time, while Lindsay Lesha monitors the results on the computer.
The track record is good so far; there are currently seven North graduates enrolled at Wayne State University's School of Medicine — an unprecedented number representing one high school, according to Speirs.

"Students are getting into programs all the time. They're coming back and saying that what they're doing in here is spot on," said Speirs.

The class grew out of what was initially a club. The Health Careers Investigations Club began in 2006 and continues today, offered to students in grades 9 to 12 interested in medicine.

"The class began because students wanted more," said Speirs. "They had big, beautiful questions and they wanted a course designed around the clinical rotations."

The dean of Wayne State University School of Medicine, parents and community members gave shape to the rotations and course content emerged from hours of research and interviews with students and medical professionals. While Speirs initiated the class, "it was and remains a truly community affair," she said.

Students view the class as giving them an edge over peers. It opens doors, provides clarity on future career options and helps them stand out in a competitive field of college applicants.

Herfi, for example, was accepted into the Osteopathic Medical Scholars Program at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, a mentoring program that guides students through their undergraduate experience and the application process at MSUCOM. Students who maintain a grade pointe average of 3.5 in science and overall waive the MCAT requirement for admission into MSUCOM.

Herfi said her experience with the class was the focus of her interview — an integral part of acceptance into the program.

"I talked about this class and our rotations," she said. "I sat in the OR for seven hours and watched surgeries all day. And that's why I was like, I want to be a surgeon. I want to be a DO. How would (other students) know that if they'd been in class looking at bio textbooks all day? Having an experience like this helps."

In addition to surgery and delivery, students had the opportunity to do rotations in radiology, pediatrics, infectious diseases, nursing, pre-op and the critical care unit. They also participated in grand rounds.

Aiyana Badih said the class impacted her decision on careers "in the long run."

"I knew I wanted to study medicine, but I kind of had an idea that I wanted to work with kids," she said. "And then I went on the peds rotation here and I knew that pediatrics was definitely it for me."

Badih was accepted at Cornell University in the biological sciences program at the College of Arts & Sciences. She said the class helped with her application.

"Kids don't get this experience in most places. We're very lucky," she said.

For Gowri Yerramalli, the class helped her decide on a medical career.

"I want to study endocrinology," said Yerramalli. "We shadowed an endocrinologist as a part of this class and I found that really interesting. My grandpa has severe diabetes and endocrinologists treat diabetes. I didn't really understand his condition, but after I shadowed the endocrinologist, I really understood what his condition was and what to do with it."

Speirs said the range the class offers would not be possible without the partnerships she has developed with local hospitals.

"The generosity of our community at large is so phenomenal," she said. "We could not do this without that." Partners include Beaumont Hospital, Grosse Pointe, St. John Hospital & Medical Center, Henry Ford Medical Center, Detroit Medical Center, American Physiological Society, Wayne State University School of Medicine and a variety of local doctors, nurses, physical therapists and medical health professionals, many of whom serve as guest lecturers.

In addition to applied medical research, the class includes clinical investigations. For example, in a recent experiment, students learned how to use probe sensors to measure muscle activity and response. Based on data they collected, they conducted a statistical analysis, or T-test.

"When you show up as a high school kid, and you know how to do a T-test and analyze data, it's not just that it looks different, it really is different," said Speirs.

The first semester addresses cellular pathophysiology, with students exploring five things that can go wrong in a cell. In the second semester, they learn about systemic pathophysiology, looking at systems and how disease manifests itself in the body.

"Some students will say this is the best part of the class," Speirs said. "Some will say, nope, shadowing is the best part. There are so many cool aspects for them in terms of what's available for them .... And it all kind of fits together.

"Every day is an adventure and a discovery," she continued. "Every year, students will come up with different questions .... And they learn a little about science and they become published. It's fun."

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