Training high school students to become health advocates
A new class of CHAMPIONS — including 45 high school juniors and seniors from nine area high schools — is ready to become health advocates in their communities.
The students graduated this month after participating in classroom and hands-on activities organized by the emergency medicine department, students from the UIC College of Medicine and UIC pre-health undergraduate students.
The program, which stands for Community Health And eMPowerment through Integration Of Neighborhood-specific Strategies using a Novel Education & Technology-leveraged Workforce, aims to build a pipeline of students interested in careers in medicine. The CHAMPIONS program is funded by a grant from the Baxter International Foundation and the Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation.
The program consisted of interactive workshops and training at the UIC College of Medicine, along with clinical skills development opportunities in the UI Health emergency department, where students screen patients for health conditions and help facilitate follow-up care. Students follow up with those patients during the next school year and help lead health screenings in the schools and communities.
The second class of CHAMPIONS came from high schools in mostly low-income neighborhoods. Students submitted applications, wrote an essay and had in-person interviews. The first class, which took place last summer, had 27 students from five area schools.
Since last year, the program has hired two full-time coordinators and six part-time coordinators and provides stipends to five high school students to help manage the program. More than 20 medical students and pre-medical students at UIC have also been helping out.
Hands-on activities included learning to suture, visiting the cadaver lab and the Dr. Allan L. and Mary L. Graham Clinical Performance Center, and dissecting animal organs. CHAMPIONS participants learned bystander CPR with Illinois Heart Rescue. Students also gained community organizing skills, and learned how to prepare for college and medical school.
“My favorite parts of the program were shadowing nurses and seeing a live surgery in the operating room,” said Shahzaib Asif, a senior at Nicholas Senn High School in the Edgewater neighborhood. Shahzaib said the program has fueled his passion for medicine; he plans to pursue a career as a cardiologist.
The students continue with the program into the school year, keeping in touch with their CHAMPIONS mentors and participating in community health events.