Known as “Doctor Annie” to her family for most of her life, Annie, now 18, has been dispensing cough syrup and taking temperatures for as long as she can remember. It was the first sign that she wanted to be a doctor. “I’m a first-generation Vietnamese American. No one in my family has ever been a physician,” Annie explains. “I had my scrubs and cap when I was little. I knew I wanted to be a doctor just because I want to help people.”
But she wasn’t finding the serious medical classes she was looking for in her high school, so Annie, not one to sit back and wait, started investigating options. It was her science teacher who told her about the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital Medical Explorers program and Annie got right on it. She looked up the web site, downloaded the application and signed herself up.
“I applied and told some of my friends about it, so they applied too," she says. "Four of us ended up being accepted into the program, and it’s very cool.”
Medical Explorers provides young people like Annie a chance to learn about a variety of medical careers from health care professionals. Teens from high schools throughout the area participate in activities and talks from physicians, residents, administrators and staff representing therapy, speech/audiology, pharmacy, nursing, Child Life services, infection prevention and other departments. The program, originally developed by the Boy Scouts of America, began at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in 1996. Annie has been involved for three years. She is already applying to colleges for the fall with plans to go on to medical school.
She compares Medical Explorers to speed dating. “One time we had eight different doctors, nurses and EMTs in class, and they worked their way around the room answering questions. It was like speed dating without the dating,” she says, laughing. But she thinks she learned the most from cardiothoracic surgeon Jeff Jacobs. He doesn’t just lecture a class he performs it. He brings props. He uses 3D-printed heart replicas. He shows movies. He introduces surgical tools and even hosts students in an actual operating room. For the more than 20 years he has been volunteering his time (and often his money) to the program, he has been showing the Explorers what heart surgery is all about.
“I truly enjoy spending time with students, including high school, college, medical students and graduate students,” explains Jacobs, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins All Children's Heart Institute. “I am thankful to the many great mentors that I have had, and I actively seek opportunities to 'pay forward' this mentorship.”
Jacobs doesn’t stop at teaching. He follows the progress of the students he mentors and often writes letters of recommendation. He is proud to say many of his former students are now training in surgery and some even in cardiac surgery. “This year one of my students was accepted at Johns Hopkins University,” he adds proudly.
Annie has her future mapped out as well. “I know I want to be a neurosurgeon,” she says. Along with Medical Explorers, Annie volunteered in the radiology department last summer. “I spent a lot of time with the nurses and learned things like bedside etiquette and how to talk to parents and patients. And with Medical Explorers, I’ve learned about all the specialties. And I’ve met other Explorers who want the same things, so I’ve made friends that I will hang on to.” She also got a tip from a resident to contact someone about shadowing a physician in the hospital. She plans to add that to her list later this year. Annie is spreading the word about the program to the younger kids in her high school. She is a believer.
Jacobs, also a believer in the Medical Explorers program, is proud to share that his own daughter, Jessica, has been an Explorer for several years. “Jessica is a senior at Shorecrest Preparatory School and will start college at University of Miami this fall majoring in chemistry—just like I did," he says. "The Medical Explorers program is a meaningful piece of the strong and valuable educational component of the mission of Johns Hopkins All Children’s. It’s one of the most valuable and enjoyable components of my career.”
It isn’t hard to see that someday Annie—and Jessica—will likely be echoing this same pride for their own Medical Explorer students.