For Pablo Chusan, a UCF psychology and chemistry major, the road to college started in 2012 with our College of Medicine’s Health Leaders Summer Academy.
The yearly program provides a week of hands-on education for about 70 Orange and Osceola County high school students from underserved areas who are interested in pursuing a health sciences career. Working with our faculty, the students get hands-on practice in lab science, including conducting evaluations of DNA to identify suspects in a hypothetical criminal case. They learn about the intricacies of the human heart and anatomy, talk to our M.D. students about pursuing a career in medicine, and conduct research on health science topics. The goal is to get underserved students excited and prepared for what it takes to be a healthcare professional and to provide them inspiration and mentors who can help them. Not all will go to medical school – some dream of becoming nurses, dentists, scientific researchers, etc. Our job is to help prepare them to fulfill those dreams. With this year’s sixth summer camp, we have now reached almost 400 young people.
When Pablo came to summer camp, he was a student at PATHS, a small professional and technical magnet high school in Kissimmee, where he was exposed to medical assisting classes. “I’m from humble means,” he said. “I came from New Jersey when I was six, and I’ve known I wanted to go into the health field since about the same time. Before I could spell the word ‘doctor,’ I knew that was what I wanted to be.”
“At first I was attracted to the glamour – doctors are super cool and smart. But once I started getting deeper into it, I saw how much they really help people. A doctor might treat one person, but that person has a whole family. You can literally change their lives.”
Pablo’s guidance counselor recommended he apply to the Health Leaders program.
As part of the camp, he visited Nemours Children’s Hospital at Lake Nona. Five years later, he still recalls seeing a mother walking alone with her young son, a patient in a hospital gown.
“I noticed she was in tears, but trying to hide her sadness from him,” he said. “And I was like, wow, that must be so tough. A mom should never have to worry about a sick child. You just want to be one of those people who can help.”
The experience left him inspired to help children. Shortly afterward, he applied to and got accepted to UCF – the first person in his family to make it to college. He’s currently conducting research on ADHD and eventually wants to become a child psychiatrist.
“I remembered watching the doctors at Nemours and how much they affect people’s lives, and it just put me in my place,” he said. “It just helps put into perspective why you’re doing all of this. Being in school is one thing. Seeing what school leads to is a totally different thing.”
Our goal with Health Leaders is to help youngsters like Pablo understand what it takes to get into a health career, to dream big and ask, “Why not me?” When I spoke to this year’s class at their graduation in July, I told them that I had been the first person in my family to graduate from college. I urged them not to fear failure, to live their lives with courage, and to let their dreams soar.
And as I looked out at these bright young people and their proud families, I could only dream that one day some of them might be coming to the UCF College of Medicine.