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Taking a stab at a career in medicine

June 17, 2010

ASU brings high schoolers to campus for suture clinic

Gloves snapped, instruments clanked and plates scraped along work tables as more than 50 Arizona high school students cleanly sutured incisions – or at least tried.

Clamors of “Where do I even cut it?” “How deep do I stick the needle?” “Wait, is that the bone?” and the occasional “Oh, gross …” filled an ASU classroom June 16 as the students hunched over pig legs with a hemostat in one hand and tweezers in the other to practice stitching a laceration – just like a surgeon.

The suture clinic filled one slot in a three-day jam-packed schedule of a summer medical camp offered by ASU to Arizona high school scholars interested in pursuing careers in medicine, nursing, health care or veterinary medicine. The camp was one of this summer’s enrichment opportunities at ASU designed to give high school students a sample of college programs and classes.

The programs – ranging from an advanced writers institute to a symposium on women in science and engineering, and sequences in codes (mathematics) to jury trial advocacy – drew more than 300 students to ASU from public, private, charter and college preparatory schools throughout the state, as well as from the Navajo and San Carlos Apache reservations. Among the participants were homeschooled students. Scholarships were available through the Office of the Vice President for Educational Partnerships.

“Research shows, and school districts confirm, that high school students need opportunities in the summer to continually grow academically,” said Mark Duplissis, who oversees ASU’s Collegiate Scholars Program and High School Relations. The summer enrichment program provided high school students an opportunity to learn from leading professors in their field of interest while showcasing educational opportunities at ASU, he said.

Of this summer’s 14 programs, the medical camp was one of the most popular, Duplissis said. Faculty and undergraduate students from ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, College of Nursing and Health Innovation and University Health Services volunteered to lead or assist with mini-lessons, panel discussions and hands-on activities that ranged from exploring cochlear implants for hearing loss to a deconstruction of energy drinks.

The camp’s diverse agenda was as much about giving students confidence in their career choices as it was about giving them a peek at ASU’s resources, according to Phillip Scharf, who helped coordinate the camp. Scharf directs ASU’s Office of Pre-Professional Advising, which provides academic and career services to any student or Valley resident looking to break into the health care field.

“It is my hope that this summer camp helps high school students either become more passionate about the field of health care or have a realization that it’s not the field in which they want to be involved,” Scharf said. “The camp gives them an opportunity to be sure of what they want to do.”

Alex Moore, a junior at Desert Vista High School, said the camp had indeed strengthened his desire to do medicine, but the variety of career possibilities presented at the camp left him unsure about pharmacology, his intended specialization. Though Moore said he hadn’t previously done anything like the suture clinic, he caught on fast. Minutes after beginning the activity, he was already lending a helping hand – literally – to other students struggling to correctly insert their needles.

Hayden High School senior Eva Borquez, however, didn’t have as much luck. “I don’t understand what I’m doing,” Borquez said, laughing over her first suturing attempt. Borquez said the camp got her excited for medical school and made her more confident of her interest in pediatrics or child psychology. She confirmed, glancing at her pig leg, that she definitely “won’t be doing surgery.”

In between lessons, Duplissis and Scharf answered questions and volunteered tips for college success, which included seeking out contacts with professors early on and being “a doer, not just a joiner” when it comes to the university’s 14 organizations dedicated to the health professions.

Members of one such organization – Alpha Epsilon Delta (AED), the pre-health honors society – represented the ASU chapter at the suture clinic. They worked alongside Dr. Stefanie Schroeder, the chief of medical staff at ASU Health Services, and Dr. Jo Knatz, an obstetrician-gynecologist also at ASU Health Services, helping students with their suturing technique. AED incoming president Aaron Dahl, a senior majoring in Spanish literature with a biochemistry minor, organized the suturing activity.

The first high schooler to successfully stitch up a pig leg hadn’t initially looked at a medical career. Michael Wang, a Desert Vista High School junior, said he plans to major in computer engineering and isn’t at all sure about going to medical school. But after the chance to attempt suturing and other hands-on practice, he said he’d decided to take a second look at his interest in the medical field.

That, said chemistry senior and AED member John Griffin, is the best part of experiences like the summer medical camp. “Stuff like this is great because it not only pulls in AED members and other ASU students, it also pulls in complete strangers who may be still thinking about whether they want to go to med school. This could be what pushes them over the edge.”

More information on how high school students can get involved at ASU is online at

Written by Maria Polletta (

Carol Hughes,
(480) 965-6375
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences