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UAB, Birmingham to Expand Mini Medical School Program

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Dr. Brian Sims teaches two students how to draw blood. (Andrea Mabry, UAB)

By Hannah Echols | UAB News

Shaundra Blakemore, M.D., and Brian Sims, M.D., Ph.D., were once students in the Birmingham City Schools system who had a passion for science. After college, they transformed their passions into a career by attending medical school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Fast forward, and they are returning to BCS classrooms to inspire the next generation of health care professionals.

Launched in 2022 by the UAB Department of Pediatrics and administered through community engagement in the Division of Adolescent Medicine, the UAB Mini Medical School provides a series of virtual and in-person experiences to increase middle school students’ exposure to science, technology, engineering and math careers, with a particular focus on health care.

After a successful first year with 25 students from across the Birmingham and Jefferson County areas, UAB partnered with Birmingham City Schools to expand the program for the 2023-2024 school year. They now have programming during the school day for 60 Birmingham City Schools students. Their partnership with the YMCA has continued to reach out to students beyond BCS during the after-school hours.

“BCS helped pave our way to medical school and beyond,” said Sims, program co-director and professor of neonatology at UAB and Children’s of Alabama. “The partnership allows us to reach more students, and hopefully, what they learn here will help them stay ahead of the curve through the rest of their educations and their careers.”

Mark Sullivan, Ed.D., superintendent of Birmingham City Schools, says the Mini Medical School program shows success on several levels.

“First of all, this is another successful partnership between BCS and UAB with a positive impact on our scholars and our community. At the same time, we have medical doctors who are products of our school district giving back by mentoring and teaching the next generation of medical professionals.”

Dr. Shaundra Blakemore assists a Mini Medical School student. (Andrea Mabry, UAB)

Hands-On Approach

Each session, students are immersed in a different area of the health care field. Professionals from each field help guide a hands-on lesson and answer questions about their education and career journeys. Professionals including physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, poison control experts and forensic scientists have volunteered with the program.

“We want to engage our local students at a young age to the immense career possibilities in health care,” said Blakemore, co-director of the program and assistant professor in the Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at UAB and Children’s. “We also want the program to be an additional resource for students to learn valuable lessons and skills that they can integrate into their education and personal lives.”

During sessions, the students take part in a variety of hands-on activities, including performing CPR and intubating lifelike manikins, obtaining vital signs such as heart rate and blood pressure, venipuncture using a lifelike model, learning the importance of healthy meals and making their own healthy snacks, and much more.

Carlette Smith joined the first session of the 2023-24 school year to discuss the field of nursing. Smith, who graduated from the UAB School of Nursing, spent more than 26 years as a nurse manager at UAB Hospital. From her education journey to her mantra of “treating patients like I would want my mother to be treated” she provided insight and encouragement to students interested in pursuing nursing.

“It was important for me to volunteer with the program, not only to promote careers like nursing, but to emphasize the importance of education,” Smith said. “I want these students to be prepared to sustain themselves in life no matter the career path they choose.”

Besides monthly in-person sessions, the UAB Mini Medical School holds monthly virtual sessions where students hear from health care professionals from around the country, including a pediatric surgeon, a dermatologist, family medicine, neonatologists, pediatricians and many more. All speakers had a relationship with UAB at some point in their careers, whether training or previous faculty.

The UAB Mini Medical School partnered with the UAB summer program Center for Community Outreach and Development to encourage students to continue their science learning even when school is out via their summer camp offerings. During the 2023-24 program, students enjoyed a Saturday field trip to the UAB and Children’s Pediatric Simulation Center. This year, the simulation center came to the students to bring their lifelike skills stations to the students.

Looking Ahead

Courtlynn Perkins, a seventh grader at Phillips Academy, loves all things sports. From football to baseball, he enjoys the thrill of being on the field and aspires to play professionally one day. He also has a passion for science.

But for Courtlynn, those two areas did not seem to coincide with one another. Then he enrolled in the UAB Mini Medical School, where he learned about emergency and sports medicine from Jeremy Towns, M.D., former UAB Emergency Medicine resident and NFL player.

“It was the first time I realized I could have a career after sports that still kept me connected to the game,” Courtlynn said. “It was cool and exciting to learn about emergency medicine, physical therapy and sports medicine.”

Courtlynn, who is in his second year of the program, enjoys the hands-on activities and the opportunity to meet people from different career fields as well as students from other schools. When he learned the program would be offered through BCS, he encouraged his friends to join as well.

“I encouraged them to try it because we are still young and the program offers different career perspectives,” Courtlynn said. “Even if you don’t end up going into the medical field, you learn important life lessons and skills.”

The UAB Mini Medical School hosts sessions once a month. BCS students have the option to attend sessions during the school day. The program also offers an after-school session that is open to all middle school students.

Applications for the 2024-2025 school year will open in August 2024. To learn more about the program and apply, click here.