Juniors Aakriti Chaturvedi and Alina Ward were herded along with the other students into a small room, covered wall to wall with medical diagrams and posters. Inside, their gazes immediately fell to the center of the metallic trays placed on the tables in front of them, lined with scalpels and forceps. In the middle lay a cold, real heart.
The students looked up for instructions, a warning, for anything. But what they got was, “Have fun!”
Chaturvedi and Ward joined high schoolers from around the midwest at Camp Cardiac at UMKC, an intensive week-long medical workshop that provides first-hand medical experience and education starting on June 18. The program is offered at over 40 medical schools around the country.
Chaturvedi and Ward came into the week thinking it would reinforce an interest in cardiology, and help them make sure it was the right career path – instead they left realizing that administering heart surgeries and diagnosing cardiac abnormalities was not something they wanted to pursue. Instead, each now has a new passion for different kinds of medicine and a clearer view of what their future holds.
Despite its name, the camp is not solely focused on cardiology. Chaturvedi and Ward heard from panels of all kinds of medical professionals – pathologists giving lectures on disease and anesthesiologists giving a realistic look into their day-to-day work life.
According to Dr. Carol Stanford, associate professor of medicine and a docent at UMKC, the girls practiced skills outside of cardiology, learning everything from CPR to how to record a patient history.
“[With] high school students it is too soon to churn out any kind of specialist,” Stanford said. “It’s more to broaden a high school students vision of what’s possible in the medical field, to show you can be anything you want to be.”
Each eight-hour day started with lectures from UMKC medical students and faculty about basic heart anatomy – chambers of the heart, effects of outside stimuli on heart health, which parts of the heart are affected by heart disease. Then, the girls were diving deep into discussions about physiology, learning how and why the heart functions the way it does.
According to Ward, her peers were far more serious at Camp Cardiac than other summer camps she had been to. There was no playful banter with other campers as she moved down the lunch line, no shared chuckles or glances during lectures. As Ward saw it, kids had come from as far as Chicago to be here – this was not time they wanted to be wasting.
“Everyone there was just very focused, and kind of just worked on their own,” Ward said. “Camp cardiac is very prestigious, so it just felt like everyone was trying to prove something.”
At times, Ward and Chaturvedi felt overwhelmed by the lecturing. Spending so much of their day learning the intricacies of the human heart in a medical-school setting made them both start to re-think their interest in cardiology.
And after hearing a cardiologist give a brutally realistic glimpse into her long hours – the stress of caring for patients, and the fact that she never had time to have a family – the girls began to write-off the profession all together.
But their time at camp helped them find new interests and career paths. Ward, whose hang-up on medicine had always been that she couldn’t deal with gore, was enthralled when given the instruction to “Go wild!” and search inside for the liver and gallbladder in the open human cadaver in front of her. It gave her confidence about exploring other options in medicine, especially in the research field and anesthesiology.
And Chaturvedi, who had always thought she might go into cardiology, found a new interest in being a pediatrician after practicing how to suture wounds on dissected pig limbs.
“Being able to look at human cadavers and dissect pig hearts, it’s a pretty one of a kind opportunity,” Ward said.
According to East counselor Brenda Tretbar, who initially told Ward about the camp, Camp Cardiac can be an eye-catching addition to a college resume while also doubling as a learning experience.
“Experiences like [Camp Cardiac] that help a prospective medical school applicant know more about medicine are, in general, beneficial [to the medical school admission process],” said Jason Edwards, director of premedical programs at KU School of Medicine.
But Stanford believes the most important part of the camp is the impact after college.
“It’s an experience in what a medical career might look like [as well as] a great opportunity to learn new skills and interact with medical students,” Stanford said. “It’s a wonderful career searching opportunity, and just a growing experience for these high school students.”