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On a recent Friday afternoon, 25 osteopathic medicine and biomedical sciences students shared lunch at round tables with about two dozen Central Gwinnett 11th graders. The room buzzed with discussion about SAT scores, college admissions requirements and even the prom. The setting was the third floor of Central Gwinnett’s “castle” and the healthcare students were from Georgia Campus – Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (GA-PCOM) in Suwanee. They had gathered to kick off the second semester of a Health Career Academy program offered to interested students and those who had participated in the program last spring as sophomores.

Dr. Jade Gillispie, Assistant Principal of the high school’s Medical and Healthcare Sciences Academy who oversees the program, said “Our students have been enriched in ways I probably will never know – the minute you mention GA-PCOM they get so excited. They’ve been exposed to many different aspects of health care. What’s most import is not only have they received for themselves, but they take back what they have learned and share with other students as well.”

Led by second-year osteopathic medical students Hannah Shin and Yasmeen Shariff, the Health Career Academy aims to provide mentorship, engaging health curriculum, along with exposure to health careers. “We are trying to encourage them to graduate from high school and take an interest in health-related pathways,” Shin said. Added Shariff, “We try to guide the students and encourage them to pursue higher education and think about what they want to do in the future, with us as their support system.”

The eleventh grade curriculum will focus on major public health issues. Through active learning, the program will integrate basic scientific principles with relevant social issues that the students may face such as brain health, including the effects of sleep deprivation; sexual health, including consent and information on the Zika virus; and healthy living, including nutrition and plaque build-up. GA-PCOM Director of Student Affairs, Patience Mason, said, “We’re excited at the potential of what we have here. We believe this is making a difference.”

The GA-PCOM students will additionally mentor a new group of sophomores, beginning with a kickoff event for the tenth graders in January.

Designed by Main Line Health, a network of hospitals and clinics in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and supported by Aetna, the Health Career Academy brings medical school students into the classroom to provide mentorship and exposure to health careers through an engaging health curriculum.