DaVita Dialysis Facility Manager Cindy Adams, RN, explains the ins-and-outs of the important work they do to a group of high school students.

Alyssa, a high school sophomore at Arrowhead Park Medical Academy, has always been interested in medicine. So, when one of her anatomy teachers encouraged her to take a deeper look into the healthcare field by joining the Medical Explorers program, she jumped at the chance. “I wanted to see the diversity of medicine. Not just the stereotypical idea of medicine, but to go more in-depth, which this program has helped me to do,” she said.

The Medical Explorers program was founded by Richard Selinfreund, Ph.D., an associate professor of pathology at BCOM. He grew up in New Mexico and didn’t see many opportunities for students to pursue careers in medicine. When he returned to his home state to work at the new medical school, one of his first missions was ensuring that young students interested in healthcare careers have plenty of support in reaching their goals. Dr. Selinfreund launched the Medical Explorers program in fall 2016 and it has grown steadily ever since.

The Explorers program is geared toward high school and college age students with a strong interest in medicine. Once accepted into the program, they meet two to three times per month during which they explore all facets of healthcare through guest speakers, shadowing opportunities, and hands-on learning experiences. BCOM’s first and second year medical students serve as leaders and mentors, and they have taken over running the program from Dr. Selinfreund.

“It’s a way to give back to the community and really help promote osteopathic medicine and what our school is all about,” says first year medical student Samantha Orona who is serving as a mentor.

While many of the high school students currently in the program have aspirations of being a doctor or a nurse, Dr. Selinfreund wants them to think beyond that. He wants students to not only explore all facets of healthcare so they have a better overall understanding of the field, but to also put what they’re learning into practice and use it to reach their personal and professional goals.

In late March, an emergency helicopter evacuation crew put on a demonstration for the Explorers, landing their helicopter right across the street from the BCOM campus. “We were all super excited,” Alyssa said of the experience. “The firefighters were there too, so we got to see the on-ground paramedics as well as the helicopter paramedics, and to see how they interact with each other. It was a really cool experience to find out more about what they do. My friends and I talked about for weeks after.”

At another recent Explorers meeting, the students got an in-depth look at a local dialysis center. Cindy Adams, RN, facility administrator at DaVita Dialysis gave them a very thorough overview of the dialysis process and a full tour of the facility. Turns out the DaVita mindset matches up very closely with the tenets of osteopathic medicine.

“We don’t just manage kidney failure, we treat patients on a holistic level. We’re looking at the whole person,” Adams explained, adding that beyond treatments the staff is also responsible for bed reviews, pain assessments, on-going patient education, and assisting with kidney transplant sign-ups.

During the tour, Adams also touched on the history of dialysis and how it has evolved over the years, explained the different types of equipment in the center, and covered the day-to-day clinical experience from both the patients’ and the providers’ viewpoints.

“You don’t hear a lot about dialysis centers, so I never thought about how complicated it is and how much chemistry goes into it,” Alyssa said. “It’s different being here in person. It was a good experience because I think that it is an area that a lot of us haven’t been exposed to or even considered as a career.”

The other students were just as engaged in the tour, asking Adams pertinent questions about the difficulty of the transplant process and dealing with noncompliant patients. One student inquired about how she copes with the emotional aspects of her job.
After the tour, Dr. Selinfreund re-emphasized some of the important points of the event, like the fact that they can get a job right out of high school as a dialysis patient care technician. He also pointed out that nearly every student in the room raised their hands when asked if they had diabetic family members.

“What can we do with this experience to help ensure our own health? How can we help our loved ones see the importance of being compliant with their care plans?” he asked the students. “What can we take home tonight that we can use to really make a change simply because we can?”