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VCU medical science internship program offered to select high school students

Samay Sappal, a rising senior at Henrico High School, inspects the extra cellular domain of breast cancer cells that he has purified.

Photo courtesy of Christopher Pang
Samay Sappal, a rising senior at Henrico High School, inspects the extra cellular domain of breast cancer cells that he has purified. Photo courtesy of Christopher Pang

A small group of area high school students has been given hands-on research experience in a pilot medical science internship program with Virginia Commonwealth University.

The medical science internship program, sponsored by the VCU School of Medicine, allows highly motivated high school students to explore both the university-level research as well as the healthcare components of medicine.

Christopher Pang, VCU Honors College student and founding director of VCU’s medical science internship program. Photo by Malorie Janis
Christopher Pang, VCU Honors College student and founding director of VCU’s medical science internship program. Photo by Malorie Janis

"As you may know, there is currently a national shortage of physician scientists in the United States," said Christopher Pang, a VCU Honors College student and founding director of the internship program. "Our goal of developing this unique program was to address this issue and to kindle and inspire high school students' interests to pursue a dual career in both research and health care."

Developed with the support of Michelle Whitehurst-Cook, M.D., associate dean of admissions in the VCU School of Medicine, the program started as a small idea during a classroom discussion of the health care shortage.

Pang brought the initial ideas to several VCU and hospital program administrators, whom he says were very supportive throughout the program's developmental, planning and implementation phases.

Throughout the five-week internship program, students had the opportunity to participate in lab training and had hands-on experimentation with the scientific method.

They worked in various fields, including biochemistry, immunology and microbiology, pharmacology and toxicology, genetics and neurobiology. They also attended career seminars and application and interviewing workshops.

In addition, the students experienced the healthcare side of medicine by shadowing physicians in the emergency department and witnessing cutting edge surgeries in the operating room.

The competitive program received more than 45 applications for six slots. The six selected interns were chosen based on their online applications, letters of recommendation, grades and standardized test scores.

This year's participants were Elyse Anderson, rising college freshman, Midlothian High School; Amrita Banerjee and Seana Hedayatnia, rising seniors, Godwin High School; William Farmer, rising junior, Maggie Walker Governor's School; Abra Guo, rising senior, Deep Run High School; and Samay Sappal, rising senior, Henrico High School.

Despite each of their unique interests and past experiences, each of the students shared a common interest in both medicine and science.

"It's been very encouraging to see the level of self-motivation and determination that these students have demonstrated throughout the program," said Pang. "Some students have told me that their research is only getting more and more interesting and that they want to continue their current research after this program ends.

We hope that we have opened their doors to future directions as both a physician and a scientist."

For more information on the VCU medical science internship program and application details, e-mail the program director at vcumsip@gmail.com or visit http://www.msip.vcu.edu/.