MD/PhD Students Create Hands-on Learning Experiences for Teens


Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) students mentor teens as part of the PRomoting Inner-city Youth in Science and Medicine (PRISM) program. Over the course of 10 weeks, MSTP students create hands-on learning experiences and provide career-planning advice.

At the beginning of the winter quarter, students from Robert R. McCormick Boys & Girls Club and Northwestern University Science Club, along with Northwestern MD/PhD students, interviewed a “13-year-old patient” with unexpected weight loss, weakness, increased urine output, and a high level of blood glucose, and determined that she had diabetes. 

This activity, part of the PRomoting Inner-city youth in Science and Medicine (PRISM) high school mentoring program, was one of several hands-on learning experiences participants took part in over a 10-week period. 

“Mentoring high school students is something that requires constant adjustment in the way that we structure activities and communicate our thoughts, but it’s also very fun and rewarding,” said Dipal Patel, a student in the Northwestern University Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) and PRISM student director. “It’s gratifying to witness high school students becoming enthusiastic to learn about basic science concepts, which will help them succeed in a range of professions related to science and medicine.” 

The PRISM program aims to encourage inner-city youth to explore a career in science or medicine through interactive educational opportunities. Structured around clinical cases, teens conduct hands-on activities and experiments with mentors from the MSTP program to better understand how diseases develop. 

“As MD/PhD students, our education focuses on the interplay between science and medicine,” said Patel. “Designing the curriculum for PRISM enables us to think about how the scientific techniques we use in the lab can improve medical diagnosis and treatment, a principle that we will use as future physician-scientists. PRISM has provided me with an invaluable opportunity to develop teaching, mentoring, and communication skills, which I hope to use while working with patients, co-workers, and future generations of physician-scientists.” 

In addition to hands-on activities, a variety of professionals from medical and scientific careers are brought to the Boys & Girls Club to interact with students and assist them in the process of career planning. Students also have opportunities to participate in field trips to labs and hospitals.  

“Working with that age group is tremendously rewarding,” said Ted Cybulski, an MSTP student. “They’re excited about the subjects at hand and you can tell that these experiences are going to mold how they think about science and medicine in the future. Frequently, the students will be learning about a topic and I’ll see that light bulb go on. Those moments remind me of the same science moments I experienced at that age, and I’m glad we’re able to provide some of that.” 

The program’s assistant student director, Cybulski said working with PRISM aligns well with his career goals. 

“Both science and medicine have a strong educational component to them and is part of what excited me about this career path in the first place,” he said. “Through PRISM, not only am I getting experience I can use in teaching patients and students down the road, I’m already fulfilling some of these educational roles in a meaningful way.”

Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute’s (NUCATS) Education and Career Development and MSTP partnered together to start PRISM in fall 2012. NUCATS supports the program through faculty and administrative support, as well as provides equipment and supplies needed for the hands-on learning experiences. 

“The PRISM program builds on the outstanding success of Dr. Michael Kennedy’s Science Club initiatives, and continues to recruit high school students and showcases the variety of professions available to individuals interested in medicine or science,” said Michael Fleming, MD, MPH, NUCATS education director and PRISM faculty director. “The program also provides MSTP mentors, individuals who are not too far removed age-wise from high school students, as inspiration for how to achieve these goals. The MSTP mentors and leaders have shown a remarkable dedication to PRISM and to the high school students they work with. As we move forward with PRISM we are beginning to partner with local high schools and community groups to increase opportunities for high school students to explore careers in medicine and science.”

For more information, please visit the PRISM website

About Author

Sarah Plumridge

Sarah Plumridge is a content specialist in the Office of Communications. She writes and takes photos for news stories covering education and alumni affairs, as well as research. She studied biology and studio arts at the University of Rochester and completed her master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications.

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