CMSRU program enriches summer for area undergrads
For many college students, summer is a nice break from the rigors of their academic responsibilities. But for 27 bright, motivated undergraduates from New Jersey, the past six weeks were an opportunity to enrich their knowledge of science, medicine, and research, and teach them about the health, economic and educational disparities that exist for urban residents through Cooper Medical School of Rowan University's (CMSRU) Premedical Urban Leaders Summer Enrichment (PULSE) Program.
"The knowledge, enthusiasm, and compassion that these students possess is truly remarkable," said Jocelyn Mitchell-Williams, MD, PhD, Associate Dean of Diversity and Community Affairs and PULSE Program founder and director. "It has been a privilege to work with them and watch their evolution over the past six weeks. I'm confident that we have many future physician leaders among them."
Dr. Mitchell-Williams launched PULSE three years ago. The program targets high-achieving science undergrads interested in pursuing careers in healthcare, with special consideration to those from diverse or disadvantaged backgrounds who could be positively impacted from an experiential learning opportunity. A small stipend is provided to students accepted into this competitive program.
The PULSE program includes an academic component, with lectures and team based learning session covering topics in microbiology, pathophysiology, and biochemistry; seminars on neuroanatomy, health disparities, health access, and careers in medicine; workshops teaching the ins and outs of nutrition, suturing, and presentation skills; and tours of healthcare settings, including Cooper University Hospital, its operating rooms, and Level I Trauma Center. In the afternoons, students participate in the research or service learning activities they have selected, made possible through partnerships with community organizations like Volunteers of America, Center for Family Services, Cathedral Kitchen, and CAMcare, Inc.
On Friday, July 19, PULSE celebrated the end of another successful program with its annual Poster Symposium. This event was an opportunity for students to formally present posters highlighting their individual service learning or research projects. The projects covered topics such as immune responses in rheumatoid arthritis, childhood obesity, human trafficking, analyses of Camden's homeless population and a variety of other health and psycho-social issues. With family, friends, faculty and fellow students in attendance, the event was also a forum to practice the presentation skills they learned in the program.
The first prize winner of the PULSE Poster Symposium was Alexus Cooper, a Rutgers University student from Mount Laurel, NJ. Ms. Cooper focused her project on childhood obesity in the City of Camden. Her poster provided statistics on the rate of obesity in the city and ideas for combating this serious public health crisis. As the aspiring medical student discovered in her research, the problem is more complex than bad eating habits.
"Getting active in the City of Camden is easier said than done for a kid," explained Ms. Cooper. "It's hard to be active here when people don't even feel safe going out their front doors."
In reflecting on her choice to participate in PULSE, Ms. Cooper noted that it was really the only activity she wanted to do this summer. "I had other options, but I liked that PULSE was so well-rounded, that there was more than science. We had exposure to so many important things, more than I would have gotten at any other program."
Having grown up in the nearby suburb of Mount Laurel, Ms. Cooper was surprised by how little she knew about Camden prior to the PULSE Program. After experiencing the city up-close, she is captivated by the idea of urban healthcare and plans to continue her work in Camden. "I've developed a strong interest in the city," she said. "The visit to CAMcare really impacted me, and that's where I hope to volunteer in the future."
For Dr. Mitchell-Williams and her team, which also included members of CMSRU's charter class, the end of PULSE is bittersweet. "These students worked so hard and they deserve a break before they return to their universities, but we will miss the excitement and passion they brought to CMSRU and the city over the summer," she explained. "Hopefully they now understand how they can personally affect change in Camden and other urban communities, and their desire to enter the medical profession has been strengthened. If these are the physicians of tomorrow, our future certainly looks bright."