Chicago – Argie Claro watched intently as the first incision was made. He looked around the operating room, counted the number of doctors and nurses and observed as clinicians tended to the patient. But Claro was not part of the surgical team; he was 17 miles away in his science class on the west side of Chicago. Instead of learning about the gallbladder from his science book, the Westinghouse College Prep sophomore was getting a live, up-close look at a laparoscopic gallbladder removal performed by Nathaniel Soper, MD, chair of the department of surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and his team. Claro and five of his classmates are part of the inaugural class of the Northwestern Medicine® Scholars Program, which offers students a head start on careers in medicine through live surgery broadcasts, mentoring, lectures, tours and other hands-on learning experiences.
The Scholars Program, co-founded by Erica E. Marsh, MD, reproductive endocrinologist at Northwestern Memorial, and Maria Lin, program director, Human Resources at Northwestern Memorial, exposes students to medical careers early so they can observe, learn and consider their future goals. The program spans the students’ high school careers.
“It’s one thing to talk with young people about a career as a nurse or surgeon or anesthesiologist, but it’s another to see what those roles are like in real life,” said Marsh, who is also an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
The surgery broadcast was the first distance learning opportunity offered to the scholars, providing a truly unique experience.
“By broadcasting the surgery, we were able to safely bring students into the operating room to witness a live surgery,” said Marsh.
Westinghouse College Prep principal, Dr. Janice Jackson worked with Marsh and Soper to arrange the distance learning opportunity for the classmates, who are studying the body’s organs in their science class.
“The students are excited about medicine, so this was a great experience for them, especially since they are currently learning about the gallbladder in class. “The scholars program offers a truly unique learning experience and I’m most excited about the exposure they’re getting without even leaving the building.”
Claro’s classmate, Kaya Holland, watched as Soper carefully guided the laparoscope into the patient’s torso through a ¼” incision so he could get a good look at the area in which he would be operating. After inserting narrow instruments through three other tiny incisions, Soper conducted a brief tour of the inside of the patient, including a view of her gallbladder, liver and stomach, which created a reaction from the students.
“The surgery really opened my eyes and was very interesting to see,” said Holland. “The way we could see every little thing the doctor was doing was cool and much better than I expected.”
As he continued his work, Soper, who is on the program’s advisory board, described the surgery step by step, and explained why he chose to use the laparoscope, the types of medical professionals assisting him in the surgery, and the question on several students minds – how much blood they were going to see.
“The scope is angled so we can look around corners to really see what’s going on,” said Soper. “This technique is also better for the patient in terms of how well they will heal and what their outcome will be compared to traditional surgery with large incisions.”
The 45-minute surgery broadcast concluded with the surgical team freeing the gallbladder and a close look at the 14 gallstones that were removed from the patient. Soper then answered questions from the students ranging from the type of training needed to perform the surgery to what happens to the gallbladder after it is removed.
Jackson believes that community partnerships, like the collaboration between her school and Northwestern Medicine®, are vital to the success of the high school students.
“This program is a game changer for our students,” said Jackson. “Our kids are now at an advantage because of our partnership with Northwestern; they are able to engage with doctors who have amazing careers and utilize the mentor relationship that is being created.”
The Scholars Program is part of Northwestern’s longstanding commitment to the community, which includes several initiatives designed to expose young people to careers in medicine. To learn more about Northwestern Memorial’s community outreach or the Northwestern Medicine® Scholars Program at Westinghouse College Prep visit www.nmh.org or call 312-926-0779.