Teens as Cardiologists in Training: Program Swaps Backpacks for Stethoscopes
Experts from Northwestern Memorial’s Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute open their doors to expose young women to careers in heart medicine and surgery
Victoria Horsley is like most teenaged girls looking forward to their senior year of high school. Though for her, learning the intricacies of the human heart as part of the Cardiology Summer Academy (CSA) at Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute will rank high along with going to prom as one of her favorite senior-year milestones. Horsley is one of 16 returning seniors, from the Young Women’s Leadership Academy Charter School of Chicago, selected for the inaugural program’s week-long camp.
“I was really intrigued by this program because I’ve known for a while that I want to be a doctor,” says the 16-year-old who brims with excitement about being a part of the program. “When I found out that we would be doing so many hands-on activities, I was even more excited about going, and I was really happy when I found out I was chosen to attend.”
Recent statistics from the National Science Foundation show that women make up 44 percent of the U.S. labor force, yet only 26 percent of the nation’s scientists and engineers. In an effort to entice more girls to choose careers in medicine and science—one student at a time—the Institute for Women’s Health Research at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine has created the Women’s Health Science Program (WHSP) and this is the first summer they’ve partnered with the Bluhm Institute to offer the CSA. The program is led by Northwestern physicians and researchers who will immerse the young women in a medical school-like environment to help them learn about heart disease treatment and prevention.
“Many times a career path is shaped when someone takes a specific interest in an individual,” commented Martha Gulati, MD, cardiologist and associate director of the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute’s Center for Womenâs Cardiovascular Health who is leading the program. “We hope to reach young women at an early age to inspire them and open their minds to the science and art of medicine and cardiology. Since heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in this country, the program also serves as an important reminder of why it’s important to maintain good heart health throughout life.”
The curriculum of the Young Women’s Leadership Academy has a specific focus on math, science and technology. “We developed this program to help foster the academic and career pursuits of high school girls interested in science and medicine, and to show them real life examples of career paths they might consider,” said Megan Faurot, director of Education Programs, including WHSP, for the Feinberg School of Medicine’s Institute for Women’s Health Research. The CSA was funded in part by a grant from the Illinois Department of Public Health.
The program requires that the girls learn and apply science concepts and inquiry skills by doing hands-on laboratory and clinical activities, such as dissections, cardiac surgery observation, participation in lectures on heart disease and heart disease prevention. Another bonus of the program is that all of the girls will become trained and certified to perform cardio pulmonary resuscitation or CPR. They’ll also learn basic anatomy and physiology of the cardiovascular system and will participate in workshops and discussions about public health topics.
In addition to learning about various healthcare careers, a goal of the CSA is to educate the students about their own heart health. The school’s student population is primarily African American and Hispanic, two demographics, according to the American Heart Association, where women have a greater risk for developing heart disease compared to Caucasian women. In addition, they are less likely to know that they have major risk factors which include diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure, physical inactivity and a family history of heart disease.
“Through conversations with the parents of the young women who will participate in the program, I learned that there are multiple students with strong family histories of heart disease,” said Gulati, who is also an assistant professor of medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “Following this experience, I hope the students will understand importance of recognizing risk factors, and how to take steps such as a healthy diet and daily exercise in order to prevent heart disease from developing. These are great lessons that they can not only implement in their own life, but also take back to their families.”