back to top

Enrichment Program Opens Eyes of Roanoke Students to Medical Careers

For six weeks every fall and spring, a group of high school students from Roanoke gather at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine to learn what it’s like to be in medical school.

They study cardiology and neuroscience and how the heart and brain work. They examine and dissect organs in the school’s anatomy lab and role-play in realistic simulations. In addition, they visit various labs in the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC.

The students are part of a program called Medical Discovery of Careers (MedDOCS), created at the Icahn School of Medicine and adopted at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine in 2019. The program brings together students from different races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds with one thing in common: an interest in science and medicine. This fall, MedDOCS will be renamed ScholarDOCS.

“MedDOCS is designed to open these students’ eyes to the fact that they can be doctors. They can do science research. Or they can pursue a different health care career. We want to just get them excited in general,” said Alex Minor, who became involved with the program while earning a graduate degree at Icahn. Minor adapted the program and its curriculum when she started at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. “I had such a positive experience being part of the program in New York. It was so rewarding and fun to work with the kids.”

We see ourselves in them

After a slow start due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the program has steadily grown in terms of participant interest and the number of medical students who wish to volunteer.

“It’s one of the most popular clubs here at the medical school,” said third-year student Roger Luong, who served as a coordinator this year along with classmate Shruthi Prabhakar. Medical students are mentors in the program, teaching and guiding participants.

“These kids are so young, and we see ourselves in them,” Prabhakar said. “They have the same hopes and dreams as I did. It’s cool to be part of the nurturing force behind that.”

Roger Luong and Shruthi Prabhakar, members of the the medical school’s Class of 2026, served as coordinators of the program this year. Photo by Ryan Anderson for Virginia Tech

Sixteen-year-old Sachita Baskota was attending MedDOCS for the second time. Her goal is to be a doctor.

“The best part of this experience is all the learning that takes place,” she said. “I especially liked the simulation lab where we could act out real-life situations.”

During a lesson in brain anatomy, John Aziz, 16, was especially attentive, as he plans to be a neurologist. “This is really exciting, learning about how everything in the body works together,” he said.

In one popular simulation, medical students pretend to be patients and doctors in an emergency situation. MedDOCS participants are told that doctors are busy with the situational chaos, and they are to talk to a patient, ask questions, figure out what’s going on, and report back.

A student wrote on the course evaluation, “This was so scary. It pushed me out of my comfort zone, but I loved it.”

“Shruthi and I have the same vision,” Luong said. “We wanted to make sure that these students, many of whom travel from distant locations, would have an enriching and memorable experience.”

Fostering curiosity

Prabhakar was the first in her family to pursue medical school.

“My family was supportive, but I had to figure a lot of things out for myself,” she said. “To be able to offer guidance about science and medicine to these kids and create a passion within them means the world to me.”

Luong grew up in an immigrant household, and life was challenging.

“I credit my success in medical school to the exceptional mentors who have supported me,” he said. “I’m eager to pay it forward and empower others and to foster curiosity. There’s a profound sense of satisfaction when you can positively impact someone’s life.”

Tom Maynard, research associate professor, who is part of the Anthony LaMantia research lab at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC, shows MedDOCS students the hippocampus of a mouse brain. Photo by Ryan Anderson for Virginia Tech

Giving them a leg up

When MedDOCS finally began in earnest after the pandemic, its first student coordinators were Stephen Dvorak and LB Canary, both members of the Class of 2024. They look back on it as one of the most meaningful experiences in medical school.

“As a med student, I wanted to be more than a visitor to Roanoke in terms of service,” Dvorak said. “Our goal at the outset was to identify students in Roanoke who were from underserved or underrepresented communities. We wanted to give young people something that would give them a leg up as they apply for college and to make it apparent to them that careers in science and medicine are true options for them.”

Canary said they wanted to give students a chance to see themselves in medical school like the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine (VTCSOM).

“It’s incredibly gratifying to see how popular MedDOCS has become,” she said. “Hopefully in a few years, we’ll see MedDOCS participants matriculating at VTCSOM.”

By Catherine Doss

Latest Articles

- Advertisement -Fox Radio CBS Sports Radio Advertisement

Latest Articles

- Advertisement -Fox Radio CBS Sports Radio Advertisement

Related Articles