High school students in UCI's new Summer Premed Program
High school students in UCI's new Summer Premed Program gather around a mannequin in the campus's Medical Education Simulation Center.

For two weeks this summer, 30 local high school students traded in their T-shirts and flip-flops for white coats, the distinctive garb of doctors everywhere. In the new Summer Premed Program at UC Irvine’s School of Medicine, they got a taste of what it would be like to attend medical school.

Beginning July 19, the teens went on patient rounds with physicians at UC Irvine Medical Center; attended lectures on such topics as surgical techniques and the future of stem cell research; and took part in clinical training exercises in the new Medical Education Simulation Center on campus.

The activities were designed to stoke their interest in future careers in healthcare. And, according to Alicia Zaccagnini, a senior at Santa Margarita Catholic High School, they did just that. “It was great to do all the hands-on things medical students do and spend time in the hospital environment,” she says. “This confirmed that I want to be a doctor someday.”

The Summer Premed Program is among several UCI outreach efforts to introduce Orange County-area teens to the field of medicine. Students and administrators from three campus organizations – the Department of Urology High School Outreach Program, the Center for Future Health Professionals and the Latino Medical Student Association – worked with faculty physicians to create the curriculum.

“We wanted to take this next step in helping local youth make informed choices about their eventual career paths,” says fourth-year UCI medical student Marco Angulo. “We found students in the program to be sincerely dedicated to giving back to humanity, and hopefully we’ll begin seeing them at our school in the near future.”

Enrollment was competitive, with more than 75 applicants vying for 30 spots. Tuition was $1,950, with the money funding outreach efforts by the three organizing groups. Three students received full scholarships, according to Rosanne Santos, Summer Premed Program coordinator.

Dr. Behnoosh Afghani, clinical professor of pediatrics and program director, says participants learned healthcare basics: suturing and intubation, X-rays and ultrasounds, life support, pulse and blood pressure measurement, casting and splinting, and nutrition. In addition, UCI faculty physicians talked to them about medical ethics and compassionate patient care.

“We want to expose students to the entire spectrum of the medical school experience, from classroom work to frank discussions about moral and ethical issues,” Afghani says. “We hope they see a link between what they study now in high school and how it relates to becoming a physician.”

But most of all, Summer Premed Program participants had fun, especially at the recently opened Medical Education Simulation Center. The state-of-the-art facility houses a number of life-size, computer-controlled mannequins on which students can practice basic techniques and the safe use of medical tools.

As half the group huddled around “Bob,” a mannequin suffering an asthma attack, to learn about emergency care and reading an X-ray, the rest performed intubations on four other mannequins, watching on a video monitor how to insert the plastic breathing tube into the throat.

“It’s exciting to carry out procedures like this that no one else does until they’re in medical school,” says Afaf Moustafa, a junior at Corona del Mar High School. “This is so cool.”