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Program aims to inspire future physicians, dentists


Published May 1, 2014

Splinting a friend’s finger and suturing were on the agenda Tuesday when nearly 100 UB medical and dental students visited ninth and 10th graders at the Health Sciences Charter School (HSCS).

The UB students and some faculty members, as well as local dentists and physicians, visited the Buffalo school as part of “Doctors Back to School,” a national event sponsored by the American Medical Association to inspire students from underrepresented groups to pursue careers in the health sciences.

They introduced the high school students to various medical and dental procedures. Students learned how to make casts and splints, with their friends posing as patients. They also handled human hearts, lungs and brains on loan from the UB medical school’s anatomy program and performed some basic dental procedures, including tooth waxing and tooth identification.

Medical student Joseph Modica explains suturing to Nissa Mapps. Photo: Douglas Levere

In addition to teaching small groups of students how to perform procedures, the 65 medical students and 30 dental students talked about why they chose medicine or dentistry as a career.

“We are so honored to have students from the University at Buffalo at our school,” said HSCS principal Hank Stopinski. “Many of our students walk out of the event suggesting that one day they want to be just like the UB graduate students and become a medical professional. We are so grateful for the experience.”

Seventy percent of the 243 students in ninth and 10th grades at HSCS are African-American; the majority is female.

The goal of the program is to “show our students that you don’t have to be a rich kid from the suburbs to go to medical or dental school,” said Melina Vamvas, college and career coordinator at HSCS.

When UB medical students brought the Doctors Back to School program to HSCS four years ago, they had just 10 students. Since then, and with the addition of UB dental students, the number of UB students involved has expanded tenfold.

This year’s event was coordinated by Kiana Guerrero, a Bronx native and first-year student in the UB medical school, and Arthur Bigsby III, a student in the dental school.

“This program helps pique young minority students’ interest in medicine and dentistry by introducing them to real-life role models and by raising awareness about the need for more minority physicians,” Guerrero said.

Added Bigsby: “I feel our job as current students and eventual health professionals is to fuel the fire in these young kids. We were obviously all inspired to enter the medical field at one point in our lives, and I cannot imagine a better feeling than returning that favor and inspiring the next generation.”

According to the AMA, while African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and Native-Americans comprise nearly one-quarter of the U.S. population, they make up only 9 percent of the doctors in this country.

“I’m participating in ‘Doctors Back to School’ because I have a vested interest,” said Luther K. Robinson, UB professor of pediatrics. “I want to see more local students pursue careers in the health sciences — in all its varied enterprises. I believe that ‘one sows and another waters …’ but no one can predict which plant will flower. My role models were two dynamic teachers who validated me in my formative years. My participation in this event is an opportunity to potentially and positively impact a young person’s life.”

Michael Hatton, clinical associate professor of oral diagnostic sciences at UB, said he and his wife, Elizabeth Hatton, a family physician in private practice, took part in the event because of their own modest backgrounds.

“We believe in enlightening young people about our respective professions,” Michael Hatton said. “If only one goes on to a doctoral degree, they will be repeating the journey that my wife and I undertook many decades ago. It was a hard road, with no family financial support. We lived on a dream and we made it happen. So can one of these kids.”

In addition to Robinson and Hatton, Steven Abel, associate dean for student affairs in the dental school, participated in the event.