Local Seniors Get a Taste of Their Own Medicine at the EVMS Health Sciences Academy

High School seniors pose after touring Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital facilities.

By Adolphus Ames –

The Eastern Virginia Medical School Health Sciences Academy concluded this week. The two-week program serves as an opportunity for high school seniors interested in the health sciences to learn valuable information about the medical field.

The program began in 2019 and initially focused on students from Portsmouth Public Schools. It expanded to include Northampton High School in 2020 thanks to donor support. Northampton County Coordinator Kelsey Gaskins said the main point of the program is to teach students that you don’t go to medical school just to be a doctor. “The opportunities are endless,” said Gaskins. “For example, you can become an EMT, audiologist, or a nurse practitioner.”

During the academy, students are presented with different daily activities that explore the various realms of the medical world. On Tuesday, July 13, the students toured about a dozen departments at Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital, including the ER, ICU, cancer center, and pharmacy laboratory services. At the end of the tour, students received stethoscopes and nurse goodie bags.

On another occasion, the students conducted a lab experiment on the genetics of fruit fly eye color. “I had been raising these fruit flies for about two months,” said Gaskins. “First, we learned about the different types of fruit flies and based on genetic crossing what their offspring would look like. The next day, we performed paper chromatography on them. Basically, we put the flies to sleep and smashed their heads on a special paper, which we then processed for the pigments in each. The following day we used a black light to analyze the results.” 

“I really hope students walk away with one career field they are really drawn to,” said Gaskins. By the end of the program, students have to complete a capstone project focused on their potential career path. They have to choose a job title that interests them and research the salary average, growth projections, and education required for the position and give a presentation to their peers and parents.

Several students joined the academy already aware of the career they wanted to pursue.  “I’ve always been interested in the medical field,” said Brianna Harris, a Northampton High senior. “All the females in my family are nurses.”

“I joined the program because I am interested in medicine,” said Jalon Burton, another Northampton senior. “I plan to attend either JMU or George Mason University and then go into surgical assistance and become an anesthesiologist.”

The program has proven to be enjoyable for everyone involved. According to Julie Stoner, HSA program director, the program has had great support from both community partners and internal EVMS community since its inception. “With the help of additional donors, we hope to continue to expand this program,” she said.

There are several possibilities for expansion within the coming years. These include expanding the program duration from two to three weeks, the grade level range to include freshmen, sophomores, and juniors, and possibly introducing pay incentives for the students involved. 

Destiny Carrington, a Northampton senior who plans to get her nursing BSN and then pursue a doctorate, said it best when she described the academy in a positive light. “It’s all fun and learning,” said Carrington. “Not just boring paperwork.”

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