AHEC Campers Try Out Careers in Medicine, Research at UK

Positioned beside a large poster and wearing a short white lab coat, high school student Julie Volpeheim rationalized findings from a study on Kawasaki’s Disease in the UK College of Pharmacy Atrium.

Volpeheim, who spent the past two weeks immersed in scholarly research at the Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Heath Researchers Youth Academy, employed the terminology of a doctoral-level student to describe the study’s methodology and results. Showing mastery of the science with her co-presenter Hayley Anderson, Volpeheim suggested future studies should address the genetic origins of a rare disease of the pediatric coronary arteries.

When asked if she foresees subsequent research on Kawaski’s Disease in her future, Volpeheim, an incoming senior from Boone County, wouldn’t rule out the possibility. But Anderson, who is from Versailles, Kentucky, expressed ambitions in other areas of the medical field.

“I’m more of a ‘neuro’ person,” Anderson said, referring to the field of neuroscience.

This summer, 51 high school students from around Kentucky explored future careers in health research and the medical profession during the Summer Enrichment Program for incoming juniors and the Health Researchers Youth Academy for incoming seniors. The camps are designed to prepare Kentucky’s youth for careers within the health care industry and expose students to the processes involved with scientific research at an early stage of academic decision-making. The academy concluded July 10 with poster presentations of scientific studies, which were chosen by pairs of students during the camp.

Only 40 new campers were selected from 285 applicants to attend the competitive Summer Enrichment Camp. During the four-week program, students were housed on campus and attended biology, chemistry and physics classes. The students participated in clinical rotations every Wednesday and attended presentations by representatives from the six health colleges on UK’s campus.

Simultaneously, the two-week Health Researchers Youth Academy imparted the importance of medical research to students who are interested in non-clinical career paths in health care. During the camp, students attended morning physiology classes and spent time examining laboratory research. Teams of students are partnered with a current graduate student, who provides guidance for developing a final research presentation.

Twelve participants in the Health Researchers Youth Academy were graduates of the 2014 Summer Enrichment Program. Carlos Marin, assistant dean for community and cultural engagement in the UK College of Medicine/AHEC Program Director, said previous graduates of the programs have entered successful research and medical careers at UK and other academic institutions.

“Since it was start 10 years ago, this program has served as a starting point for youth who want to know about opportunities in medicine, and more specifically medical research,” Marin said. “At many points during the camp, our faculty members and graduate students create memorable experiences that will follow the students for a lifetime. These camps help them decided early on if a career in research and medicine is right for them.”

Senior Isaac Li, who is from Kenton County, presented a study from Duke University, which tested whether a virus can be used to treat a cancer of the brain and spine. During the camp, Li and his camp partner J.D. Roe gained a greater appreciation of how medical research can translate to improved treatment options for patients with cancer.

“I like how this just happened — it’s a new study,” Li, who said he might want to become a researcher one day, said. “It’s really ground-breaking.”

Roe, on the other hand, learned he’s not cut out for a career in academic research. He thinks he’ll either become a farmer or a radiologist. The study he chose for his presentation took 25 years to complete, which Roe said requires extraordinary patience and persistence.

“You have to be really dedicated,” Roe said of what he learned about careers in research.

MEDIA CONTACT: Elizabeth Adams, elizabethadams@uky.edu