The daughter of Somalian immigrants, 16-year-old Muneera Issa produces documentary films and wrestles on the varsity squad at Worcester Technical High. Burncoat High School student Oris Amegbe, also 16, is a scholar and self-trained musician whose mother came to the United States from Ghana. Both rising juniors maintain a 3.9 grade point average, participate in a variety of extracurricular activities and aspire to be doctors.
“When I was younger I used to tell my parents I wanted to be a doctor, but mostly to get their praise,” recalled Issa, whose family came to the United States for better opportunities. “But when I reached high school, I began seriously exploring the idea. It has become more of a reality through this program.”
The High School Health Careers summer program at UMass Medical School is giving these two high-achieving teens a firsthand education in what health and science careers entail.
“To be a pediatrician is my dream, and this program is my aid in determining and confirming my goal,” said Amegbe.
He and Issa are among 20 local teenagers who are participating in the tuition-free, four-week program for Massachusetts high school students who are from minority populations underrepresented in health care, or are economically or educationally disadvantaged. Offering opportunities to learn about the broad spectrum of health care and science professions, the program incorporates enrichment activities and seminars in cultural and contemporary health issues with rigorous academics.
In addition to attending classes, students participate in hands-on internships at UMass Memorial Medical Center that give them the opportunity to interact with patients as well as physicians and other health care professionals.
“My internship in the emergency department was eye-opening. It’s the fastest place at the Medical Center,” said Amegbe. “I’ve seen a lot and learned a lot about what doctors and nurses do. I’ve learned that a hospital needs everybody to work together.”
Issa, Amegbe and their classmates have also learned what it will take to turn their dream of a health care career into reality, and gained essential skills and knowledge to use on the journey ahead.
“The program taught me to discipline myself because this is summer vacation, and while other people are having fun without a care, at 9 o’clock I’m doing homework and I do care,” said Amegbe. “It’s showed me the rigors of becoming a doctor. I believe I’m prepared.”
“I learned about a lot of the things I didn’t know I had to do and that they can’t teach you in high school, like how to finance your education,” Issa noted. “It makes me really happy. I go home and tell my parents, ‘I can actually do this! It’s a real possibility.’”
Most inspiring for Issa has been getting to speak with current medical students. “I never had someone in my family who became a doctor for me to talk to, so this was an opportunity to find out what someone really goes through in medical school,” she said. “All [the medical students] said it is worth it. I want to be able to say that!”
And as a young African-American woman, Issa appreciates the program’s goal to bring greater diversity to health care professions.
“When I go to the doctor’s I don’t see people who look like me,” she explained. “I like that this program is about diversifying the medical field, which is something I feel strongly about.”
“I would recommend this program to anybody who aspires to work in health care,” Amegbe said. “It’s a good way to dip your toe in before heading to college.”