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Medicine

BCOM program trains students for careers in health care

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LAS CRUCES - Local high school students interested in the in the health care field will have the opportunity to get hands-on experience and advice from second-year medical students when they apply for the Youth Medical Explorers Program offered through the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine.

The BCOM student-run program, heading into its fourth year, is accepting applications through Sept. 16 and runs October 2019 through April 2020. Students accepted into the program meet from 5:30-7 p.m. one or two evenings a month throughout the academic year. The program, funded by BCOM, is free.

“Our mission is to encourage students in the area to pursue careers in health care in many aspects – becoming a doctor, nurse, working in an ambulance, EMT, helicopter pilot anything encompassed in health care,” said Virginia Stoddard-Merriam, a second-year BCOM student and Youth Medical Explorers co-chair. “We want to encourage students to pursue healthcare fields and come back to serve the Las Cruces community because we have such a shortage of health care in the area.

“We think it’s important for people to know they can pursue those fields here and stay here,” she said.

Stoddard-Merriam, who runs the program with fellow second-year students and Co-Chairs Lee Boyle and Nicholas Chajec, said the Medical Explorers Program caters to junior and senior high school students. Juniors, generally first year students in the program, receive wilderness medical training, such as learning how to treat wounds or what to do for a spider or snake bite. When students complete the training, they earn a Wilderness First Aid Certification.

Seniors, generally second-year students in the program, receive more advanced medical training, earning a Basic Life Support (BLS) Certificate, which includes CPR training.

All students in the program participate in hands-on medical activities and fieldtrips, and local medical professionals give presentations to students about the different areas of health care. Most presentations and activities take place at BCOM, located on the New Mexico State University campus.

“While this is all going on, students are paired with [second-year] medical students from the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine, so they have a one-on-one mentee-mentor relationship throughout the year,” Stoddard-Merriam said.

The mentorship aspect of the program is part of what makes it successful, said Dr. Richard Selinfreund, BCOM associate professor of physiology and pathology and founder of the Youth Medical Explorers Program in Las Cruces.

“The medical students look like high school students so there’s an immediate bond between the medical students and high school students,” Selinfreund said.

Selinfreund started Youth Medical Explorers at BCOM in 2016, when the college opened for its inaugural class. The idea for the program came from one of Selinfreund’s former professors, who was running a similar program in Albuquerque.

“They worked on it for quite a long time and we wanted to carry on the program here in Las Cruces,” he said. “We figured out a couple things they didn’t understand, and one was using the students as mentors instead of the faculty.”

The Las Cruces program began with 12 high school students and has since doubled to 24. The total, however, is 48, with the program’s expansion into Jemez Pueblo, about 50 miles northwest of Albuquerque and home to more than 3,400 tribal members.

Founded by Selinfreund and BCOM faculty and staff members Adela Lente, Justin McHorse, Nancy Minugh-Purvis and David Rodenbaugh, the Jemez-Pathways for Advancing Tribal Health (J-PATH) program launched in July of this year.

“We’re expanding out to other cities besides Las Cruces,” Selinfreund said. “…We’re going to continue the one in Las Cruces and expand to the pueblos in New Mexico.”

While J-PATH focuses on tribal communities, the goal is the same as Youth Medical Explorers – keeping students in school, encouraging them to pursue higher education in the medical field and encouraging them to practice in underserved areas. 

“The big push is to keep (students) in New Mexico and have them come back to the home where they were born to become health workers – that is our vision,” Selinfreund said.

Selinfreund also hopes that students who participate in the program implement it in other places as they move forward in their career paths.   

“When our students leave to go do residencies in other cities, we want them to take the program with them and that’s how we want it to grow,” he said. “We want them to start a Medical Explorers Program with their high school associated with their residency.”

Space in the Youth Medical Explorers Program is limited. Students who wish to apply can pick up an application at their high school’s counselor’s office or through their science department. For more information, contact Stoddard-Merriam at virginia.stoddard@mybcom.org.

Alexia Severson may be contacted at alexia@lascrucesbulletin.com.

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