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Students at the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine are already interacting with their future patients. First year medical students Zack Taylor and Jorey Cunico launched Sin Limites, a mentoring program focused on building positive relationships with young children in the community.

“Sin Limites means ‘without limits’ in Spanish. We’ve been focused on fostering relationships to help children who may be in need of positive influences in their lives. But I think we as medical students have benefitted just as much, if not more, from this program so far,” Taylor said.

Taylor and Cunico approached BCOM Education Specialist Christa Vaudrey with their idea for a mentoring program last fall. Before coming to BCOM, Vaudrey spent several years as an administrator for Las Cruces Public Schools. She put them in touch with the principal at MacArthur Elementary School.

The New Mexico Public Education Department has identified MacArthur as a Title 1 school, meaning it has a high percentage of children from low-income families that may be challenged in meeting state academic standards. Leonard Gonzales, a Title I Interventionist at MacArthur, said, “It’s been exciting to embark on this liaison between BCOM and MacArthur. It has been a positive experience overall and the kids have really taken to the mentors. They are always asking, ‘When are the mentors coming?’”

While similar programs are often based around tutoring, Sin Limites is more focused on fostering relationships. Instead of matching students with mentors based on academic needs, the MacArthur students were paired on personal interests, backgrounds, and teacher recommendations.

To build that special bond, earlier this year BCOM students visited MacArthur and had the elementary students show them around the school and introduce them to their teachers and classmates. “Then, we had a game day where we built that relationship even further,” Cunico said. “Now, we’re coming full circle by showing them our school and maybe exposing them to something they’ve never seen or thought of before.”

During the last week of school, the MacArthur students toured the BCOM campus where they learned about CPR and nutrition, and played the board game Operation with the future physicians.

Alezandra, a MacArthur fifth grader, said she’s always been interested in pursuing a career in science or engineering, and this program has introduced her to the medical opportunities in the field. Jonathan, a fourth-grader with firefighter aspirations, said his mentor showed him how to do stitches and sparked his interest in medicine.

Gonzales said, “They don’t all necessarily have to strive to become doctors, but it’s important for these kids to hear from as many people as possible that school is important and that it’s a means of achieving your goals and aspirations in life.”

This year, Sin Limites focused on third, fourth, and fifth graders. Next year, students remaining at MacArthur will continue on with their same mentor. The new class of incoming BCOM medical students will be paired with the new class of third graders.

“It’s an adjustable program,” Cunico explained. “Each mentor builds that relationship with their student and then we start asking: Do we need to focus on reading a little bit more? Do we need to focus on the way that we interact with our fellow students more? But building that bond and that relationship first is crucial, not only for them, but for us. This program has already helped me build the kinds of relationships and skills that I need to relate to patients and help those that I serve.”