Students introduce health care fields to Boys and Girls Club

OT students, Boys, Girls Club
OT students, Boys, Girls Club

More than 50 Health Science Center students from the schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry and health professions participated last month in a four-day health care careers pilot program with the Boys and Girls Club of San Antonio.

The program, the first partnership of its kind between the Health Science Center and the STEM program of the Boys and Girls Club, drew more than 100 youngsters between the ages of 11 and 18.

“It was a gap that needed to be filled,” said Shirley Nah, the founder of the pilot program and current medical student. “When I started volunteering in their STEM program, I noticed that they didn’t have health care representation as part of their science, technology, engineering and math programming, and here I was attending a health sciences school.”

The Boys and Girls Club of San Antonio has been part of the community since 1939. It now serves nearly 10,000 kids in the greater San Antonio area, 94 percent of whom are minorities.

“We are one of the most diverse health science campuses in the country, and yet we still aren’t producing graduating classes that reflect the demographics of our local San Antonio community,” Nah said. “We want to know: Do the kids know what a physical therapist is? Can they see themselves becoming nurses? Has anyone told them it’s possible for them? And when we are on site, we are there to show them that a career in health care is very possible.”

Nah’s message won the support of the Student Government Association, which adopted the pilot program as its annual community service project. The organization’s backing was the catalyst necessary to achieve interdisciplinary collaboration across the schools.

“It’s really rewarding to know that HSC students can make a lasting impact on an upcoming generation,” said Mason McDonald, a physical therapy student. “More programs like this one should exist to help bring the different Health Science Center schools together to promote interdisciplinary teamwork.”

Nah and Irene Chapa, Ph.D., director of the Office of Recruitment and Science Outreach, applied for and were awarded a Community Service Learning (CSL) grant through the Center for Medical Humanities & Ethics that helped fund the majority of the launch.

For Nah, it was a success, and she is eager to present her findings at the CSL conference in April.

“We collected data from the encounter, and it’s looking very good,” she said. “I knew the experience was rewarding because I felt it, but it’s also awesome to know that the numbers are showing it, too. The surprising thing was how much interdisciplinary exposure mattered to our volunteers.”

Jefferson Bedell, a medical student and volunteer, said it was important to serve the community in this manner.

“I didn’t really have any expectations going in,” he said. “But I appreciate more so that it was put together—that it exists—that we’re trying to reach out to communities that wouldn’t otherwise have had this experience.”

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