My mother was one of four women in her medical school class in 1954. She loved being a physician and did everything she could to get my siblings, our cousins and friends, and me to pursue a career in medicine. As a 6-year-old, I couldn’t wait for her to get home from her office. She would bring me tongue depressors, gauze pads and bandages for my “doctor’s office.” I had a little white coat, stethoscope, and an old-fashion black doctor’s bag. I felt like a real doctor. At Thanksgiving, we would “suture” the stuffed turkey. As I got older, I learned how to give an injection to an orange. I had no doubt in my mind that medicine was an achievable career path for me, even when adults thoughtlessly reminded me how many years I would have to go to school or how hard it would be. It was only later, as a first-year medical student, did I realize how powerful those early experiences were in shaping my conviction to pursue a career in medicine.
In 1998, while I was a chief resident in Internal Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, I decided to recreate my childhood experiences and write the first Little Medical School lesson. I recruited fellow residents and medical students to help me teach. Our first class, attended by 13 year olds, surprised me. They were acting silly and were not embracing the experience as I had hoped. I went home and gathered up a basketful of white coats and stethoscopes and brought them to the second class. I made the students put them on. Dressed in a white coat with a stethoscope around their neck, the students were engaged, attentive and having fun. They didn’t realize how much they were learning. That was the “AH-HA” moment. The power of role-play. This has been a key pillar of all Little Medical School programs.
Little Medical School is about engaging students ages 4-14 in an inspirational journey which not only allows them to “look” like a healthcare professional, but to use real tools like real doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and veterinarians use. And they perform unique activities that are carefully designed by our educational staff that mimic what real healthcare professionals do.
In addition to inspiring children to see themselves in healthcare careers, we teach them real life skills. Students learn what to do if there is a medical emergency, how to use a first aid kit, and how to prevent hypothermia. We also stress the importance of health care professionals being role models. That means taking care of yourself… eating right, exercising, getting immunizations, and not smoking.
We are dedicated to our mission of inspiring and shaping tomorrow’s healthcare professionals today through our after-school programs, summer camps, birthday parties, special programs and our award-winning line of educational toys. My greatest hope is that future medical, nursing, veterinarian, and pharmacy school classes will be filled with our Little Medical/Dental School graduates!