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Exploring the Potential of Medicine

Savanna Toure, a senior at School Without Walls, thought she might go into medicine, but her high school, she said, focused more on English. So, when the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) DC Health and Academic Preparation Program (DC HAPP) opportunity came up, she jumped at it.

“I want to become an OB/GYN, and I know it takes a lot of experience,” Toure said. “To be more integrated into science, that really helps prepare me, and [DC HAPP] is hands-on experience, so I can learn a lot.”

DC HAPP — led by Yolanda Haywood, M.D., RESD ’87, B.S.’81, associate dean for diversity, inclusion, and student affairs and associate professor of emergency medicine, and Grace Henry, Ed.D. ’12, director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at SMHS, along with Kirsty Fontaine, M.P.H. ’15, graduate assistant for Diversity and Inclusion — allows qualifying students to explore a potential career path in medicine. The students must demonstrate an interest in pursuing a health career, receive a recommendation from a teacher or guidance counselor, and be rising high school seniors in a D.C. metropolitan area public or charter school. Once in the program, they are paired with a mentor; this year's mentors included three second-year students in the M.D. program and one second-year M.P.H. student. 

For Toure’s cohort classmate, Jaylene Portillo, a senior at Suitland High School, DC HAPP exactly served its mission; it gave her a chance to see what working in health care is like.

“I’m in ROTC right now, so I’m thinking that I want to join the military, but I don’t know exactly what I want to do yet,” Portillo said at the beginning of the four-week program. “I figured [DC HAPP] would probably give me the gist of the medical field.”

Portillo, a Maryland native, first learned of DC HAPP through her cousin, Jordy Portillo, who graduated from the program last year, she said, taking out her cell phone to show a picture of Jordy posing in his white coat. Portillo herself, with Toure and the other members of their cohort, slipped into their own white coats — a symbol of the entry into health care — during a special ceremony with Haywood.

“The relationship between doctor and patient is sacred,” Haywood said. “So when you put these white coats on today, I want you to consider it as a symbol for you as you start to think about where you want your professional careers to go, and I want you to bring it home during these four weeks. I want you to feel the burden that the white coat comes with. The burden is to continue to develop yourselves as people.”

That development — personal, professional, and educational — included lectures and immersive activities, such as CPR certification and lessons in suturing, intubations, and how to measure vital signs. At the SMHS Clinical Learning and Simulation Skills Lab, the cohort also learned how to deliver a baby, with help from Rory Merritt, M.D., chief resident in emergency medicine at SMHS, Claudia Ranniger, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Simulation Center and assistant professor of emergency medicine at SMHS, and mannequin Victoria.

“My water is breaking,” Victoria said mechanically at one point. “I’m having a contraction!”

The DC HAPP students gathered around her, and, through coaching from Merritt and Ranniger, delivered a baby to applause.

“[The birthing simulation] was a great experience,” said Toure, who added that she enjoyed the lectures and CPR training as well. “I’m thinking more if I want do OB/GYN or pediatrics; they kind of co-exist, working with children, and working with mothers in general. I just want to apply what I learn in medical school to helping people.”