The Johns Hopkins Gazette: May 3, 1999
May 3, 1999
VOL. 28, NO. 33


A Taste of Hopkins Medicine for Dunbar Students

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette
Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Energetic teenagers rush up the steps as the next period is about to begin. Moments before, the voice on the loudspeaker had warned the Paul Laurence Dunbar Senior High School students not to be wandering the halls, and it had reminded them of the big juniors vs. seniors basketball game to be held later that day.

Vicki McGowan II, a senior, is looking forward to the basketball game and is confident that her senior class will take care of their competition.

"They'll win. The seniors always win," McGowan says.

Despite the impending game, it is just an ordinary day for this typical teen.

Less than typical, however, was what McGowan had done the previous week.

Dunbar student Vicki McGowan II at work with Pat Logan of the Neurology/Neuromuscular Department at the School of Medicine.

McGowan recalls how, perched upon a foot stool for a better view, she had peered over the shoulder of a Hopkins surgeon as he performed a biopsy.

"I was pointing and asking, 'Will you do this? How do you do that?' " McGowan says. "It was almost like I could take the scalpel and do it myself, he gave me so much instruction."

McGowan has spent the past three months working in the Neurology/Neuromuscular Department of the School of Medicine as part of her 10-week internship there. In addition to witnessing biopsies, McGowan has also been staining and labeling slides from the biopsies, becoming increasingly familiar with terms such as immunoperoxidase and macrophage.

For McGowan, who plans to become a doctor, this internship is an invaluable initiation into the world of health care. It's also required learning.

McGowan's internship is part of the Dunbar-Hopkins Health Partnership, a program that began in 1996 to give Dunbar students a taste of the real world of professional medicine. The broad goal of the program is to create a forward-looking health career curriculum that engages students in community service and propels them toward undergraduate study and a career in the health professions.

Clockwise from left: Dunbar students Amandi Williams, Lindsay Watson, Tyrone Goode, Marcus England and Shelton McDonald.

The program was the recipient of the National Career Academy Coalition's Exemplary Partnership Award for 1998.

Overseen by an executive committee of Hopkins and Dunbar officials, the partnership is co-chaired by Edgar Roulhac, Hopkins' vice provost for academic services, and chaired by Charlotte Wing, principal of Dunbar High School.

Dunbar, founded in 1965 as Baltimore's first magnet school for the health professions, is located just two blocks from the hospital in East Baltimore. Unlike in traditional high schools where each student follows roughly the same path, Dunbar students by their junior year must choose a health-related major in one of three clusters: college preparatory health professions programs, medical business careers and biotechnology. Dunbar students also are required to take basic foundation courses such as math, English and history.

The school places a heavy emphasis on hands-on experience outside the classroom. In fact, in order to graduate each senior has to participate in an internship program, typically four days a week for a 10-week period. Almost all the students at Dunbar will intern at one of the Hopkins medical institutions.

Students in the business cluster, for example, might be placed in the accounts payable or information systems departments at the School of Medicine, those in health care could intern at Bayview's Oncology Department, and biotechnology majors could spend their time in a research lab in the School of Public Health.

Dwight Lassiter, coordinator of the Dunbar-Hopkins Health Partnership, says the students are not just fulfilling their academic requirement with these internships but are being given the opportunity to apply what they are learning in the classroom.

"The kids are given a chance to work in their areas of interest. These are real-world experiences that will prepare them for secondary education and for a career in the work force," says Lassiter, stressing that the internships are intended to provide actual work experience, not just "busy work."

"In physical therapy, our kids are involved with patient transport and watching and observing certain procedures," he continues. "They might learn how to wrap a knee, do an ice pack, or help the patients walk through the halls." The various tasks are assigned by the department chair and the student's supervisor, based on the legal limits on those under 18 in regard to patient care, Lassiter says.

The relationship between Dunbar and Hopkins is not a new one. The internship partnership between the two institutions actually began in the mid-1980s, when the program consisted of just 25 to 30 of Dunbar's top students.

"It was somewhat of an elitist program," Lassiter says.

So in 1995 officials at Hopkins and Dunbar set out to expand the program by opening it to all Dunbar students--and to teachers as well.

"We wanted to make it a more inclusive program, to get the entire school involved," Lassiter says. "Now we can provide work-based experience so that teachers are aware of new industry standards and trends, and our young people are given exposure to the kinds of quality professional opportunities that are available in addition to the traditional positions of doctors and nurses."

This exposure to health care is not just for seniors either. The partnership with Hopkins also includes a ninth-grade mentoring program in which the students shadow health care professionals, and 10th and 11th grade students can participate in paid internships at one of the Hopkins institutions during the summer. Lassiter said nearly every Dunbar student will spend some time at Hopkins during his or her academic career.

Currently, 970 students are enrolled at Dunbar, 99 percent of them African American and 75 percent female. To qualify for admission into the school, students must achieve a B average or better in math and English, a minimum score of 65 in math and reading on the California Test of Basic Skills and a 90 percent attendance record in their first semester of eighth grade.

Lassiter says that one of the goals of the Hopkins-Dunbar partnership is to address the underrepresentation of minorities in the burgeoning field of health care.

"There is a definite need. People are living longer. They need more health care. We need to bring our students into the fast track as it relates to these opportunities," Lassiter says. "We need to develop a mechanism to get students into these high-paying health care positions."

Roughly 95 percent of Dunbar graduates go on to college, and three of the school's recent graduates are attending Hopkins on four-year scholarships.

Carrie Frazier, a Dunbar senior who plans on attending the College of Notre Dame of Maryland in the fall, says her internship experience in the hospital's Psychiatry Department has only reinforced her desire for a career in psychiatry or psychology.

"Some of the people come in very depressed and with a number of problems," Frazier says. "But then some come out elated and feeling much better. It's a life-changing experience for some of the patients. It's very inspirational."

Frazier, a friend of Vicki McGowan's, is excited to talk about her experience at the hospital, too. But now, with books in hand, she appears ready to head out the door. She is still a typical high school student, and it's time for her to be in class.