School's Groundbreaking Pre-Med Program Begins in 6th Grade
The bar is getting higher. Much higher.
A Florida magnet school for sixth to 12th graders has become the first medical arts school in the country -- which means the school's seniors will already have four to seven years of medical education under their belts when they graduate from high school, ABC News reports.
The School of the Medical Arts at Darnell-Cookman Middle/High School in Jacksonville, Fla., offers students as young as 12 a head start on a path to a professional medical career -- even though they will not officially practice medicine for at least 15 years, according to the program's website.
The program launched three years ago with funding from the U.S. Department of Education and the Duvall County School System, according to the school's website, and it's already producing remarkable results.
Tony Hansberry, 15, a Darnell-Cookman 10th grader, made the news when he was asked to demonstrate a new suturing technique he developed to a roomful of doctors at Northside Hospital in Atlanta this week, ABC News reports.
Hansberry's technique presents a simpler way to stitch up patients after a hysterectomy that could reduce the risk of complications, and has already been used once by a certified gynecologist. Hansberry has mastered suturing, as it's a part of the eighth grade curriculum at Darnell-Cookman, according to ABC.
Hansberry wants to be a physician, and tells ABC the experience he'll get from attending Darnell-Cookman will give him a leg up on other pre-med students when he gets to college.
"I've had four years of medicine already," he tells ABC. "(Darnell-Cookman students) will be entering medical school with a vast knowledge that no other freshman will have. They'll have to change the curriculum to fit us in."
But some question whether kids as young as 12 can handle a medical education, ABC reports, noting that students in the upper grades have a lot to juggle in balancing college-level courses and hospital internships.
Darnell-Cookman's principal, Mark Ertel, tells ABC most students are managing their responsibilities well, adding that other honors programs and magnet schools present students with a similar load of advanced placement (AP) courses. The difference at his school, he says, is that there is an overall focus on medicine.
"It can be stressful," Kathi Hansberry, Tony's mother, tells ABC, "but it seems that school is stressful in general now. "They're staying up late studying like I did in college, but they still have fun, as well."
Carolyn Landis, a psychologist and assistant professor of pediatrics at Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital, tells ABC the balance between work and play is what's critical.
"You have to have your time to get through the developmental tasks of childhood, and part of that is unstructured time spent with peers," she says. "They're not mini-adults and I think it's up to parents and administrators to make sure that kids are achieving a balance between that work load and free time with same-aged peers."
Beyond the intensity of the program, some doctors wonder if teens are mature enough to handle the subject matter of the lessons at Darnell-Cookman, according to ABC.
"Although I appreciate the efforts of a magnet school like this, I worry that children become too focused on becoming a physician too early in life," Dr. Richard Redett, director of Pediatric Plastic Surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital, tells ABC. "It is as important to enter medical school well-rounded in the arts and literature as it is science and math. One must have a wide variety of experiences to truly empathize with those who suffer."
Ertel counters this point, explaining that the person-to-person context of medicine is an important part of the education at Darnell-Cookman.
"We try to teach them that there's more to medicine than what you study in a book. It's how you relate to that patient, how you hear what's behind their voice instead of just on their chart," he tells ABC.
There are certainly advantages to getting kids excited about medicine -- and school -- at such a young age, ABC reports.
"It can be hard to know if medicine is for you until you are exposed to it," Landis says. "This helps them see whether they would be good in a number of professions related to medicine. Not all these kids are going to become surgeons."
Ertel says the school's curriculum gives kids an opportunity to see "why academics are important by connecting them to a profession that gives it value."
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.