'Doc for a Day' program gives high school students hands-on ... very hands-on ... experience

November 16, 2013

By Joe Stumpe

High school students hold cadaver brains during Doc for a Day event

Chelsea Tafoya got more than she bargained for during last weekend's "Doc for a Day" program at the University of Kansas School of Medicine–Wichita.

Tafoya, a senior from Andover Central High School, expected to hear a lot about medical school, maybe try on a stethoscope and poke a needle into a medical dummy.

Instead, there on an examination table before her lay first-year family medicine resident Dr. Danielle Wurtz, 29 weeks pregnant and inviting Tafoya to feel the fetus in her womb.

"You have to get over it being weird," Wurtz told Tafoya as the latter gingerly felt her stomach. "It's okay, I volunteered."

"Oh my ... that's ... !" Tafoya said. "That's cool."

Tafoya, who afterward called the experience "amazing," was one of 66 students from area public high schools who took part in the event. Thirty-two Wichita medical students staged it.

Begun in 2002, the half-day program is designed to give high school juniors and seniors a taste of what medical school and medical careers are like. The students are recommended for participation by principals and guidance counselors.

KU students manned 10 different stations at which they demonstrated medical techniques, and then let the high school students try the procedures themselves.

In one room, third-year medical student Whitney Weixelman helped the teens deliver a baby from a medical mannequin, showing them the correct way to hold the infant as it emerges. As a medical student, she noted, she has gotten to participate in actual births.

"Seriously, it's the coolest experience I've had," she told the students.

At the venipuncture station, Justin Maxfield used a model arm to show the students how to find veins and insert a needle into them. Because most nerve endings are on the skin surface, he said, "What you want to do is get through that surface as fast as possible."

"So, um, is this imitation blood or what?" one student asked as red liquid seeped from the dummy arm (it is).

At the cardiopulmonary station, medical student Cole Gillenwater taught the teens a mnemonic device for remembering the four heart valves, which begin with the initials APTM -- "All physicians take money."

He also told them why he chose to focus on family medicine, after initially considering specializing in surgery. "I get to know patients personally," he said. "I get to take care of them, their kids, their parents."

At other stations, high school students held human hearts and brains that had been preserved in formaldehyde, inserted breathing tubes into the trachea of a medical mannequin, and performed eye exams in a darkened room.

At the end of the day, each student got a t-shirt emblazoned with the "Top 10 Reasons to be a Doctor," including "Great parking spot at the hospital" and "Everybody looks good in white."

The Doc for a Day program is so popular that the medical school is considering expanding it. "I think next year we'll look at that," Dr. Scott Moser, vice chair for education in the Department of Family and Community Medicine, said. "I really hate to turn anyone away. This is important outreach."

Among the KU School of Medicine–Wichita student volunteers were two alumni of the Doc for a Day program: Joseph Baalmann and Natalie Hagman.

"I think I was decided, but it definitely helped to confirm my decision," Baalmann said of attending the event while in high school. "I still frequently wear the t-shirt I got back then."

"It was one of my favorite experiences of my high school career," Hagman said. "Getting some hands-on experience was really cool."

KU School of Medicine-Wichita
Last modified: Nov 21, 2013