One-of-a-kind camp opens up prospect of medical school to all

(Edmonton) Recent high-school graduate and Nigerian immigrant Elect Lebe Boogbaa’s eyes light up when he talks about medicine and the prospect of getting in to medical school. He already knows he wants to be a neurosurgeon.

“I’m passionate about it,” said Lebe Boogbaa. “I’ve always been fascinated about it as a kid.”

Lebe Boogbaa was ecstatic to be selected to attend the Asclepius Medical Camp, a week-long camp put on by medical students in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry at the University of Alberta for high-school students of lower socio-economic status. The hope of this camp, named after the Greek god of medicine, Asclepius, is to have this demographic think about a future in medicine, which camp co-ordinator Tara McGrath says is under represented in medical school.

“I’ve become quite passionate about that issue,” said McGrath, who is entering her third year of medical school. “I know in general the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry has been working on ideas of how to increase that representation and this just seems like a perfect way in my mind because I know how powerful mentorship is.”

The camp, which is considered the only one of its kind in Canada, ran the week of July 4–8 is already having success; co-ordinators, including students Alex O’Dunn-Orto, Erin Gordey and faculty members Keir Peterson, Khera Sheny and Kathryn Dong, won a Canadian Association for Medical Education research award for Best Oral Presentation (trainee category) in June.

According to McGrath, a similar camp was held in the United Kingdom and researchers followed campers for five years following the camp and found that it positively impacted them, both in considering post-secondary education and medical school. The organizers of the U of A’s camp plan to do a similar study for their program and have collected data from both last year and this year’s students.

McGrath is already seeing positive outcomes for this year’s students.
“At the end of camp students were standing around and discussing ethics issues just because they were so interested in the cases that we had discussed,” said McGrath. “They seem to be really enjoying themselves.”

In addition to ethics discussions, throughout the week the teens heard lectures given by medical students and physicians, while learning clinical skills like learning to take a patient’s medical history. They also worked on a specific medical case through “discovery learning,” a common educational tool for medical students at the U of A.

“They’ve done a really good job of covering [the nervous system] and answering questions that are beyond the scope of our learning,” said Lebe Boogbaa.

Lebe Boogbaa was already interested in medicine, but following this camp he said he’s going in to his undergraduate science degree with a renewed focus.

“Right away when I start school, medicine is on my mind,” said Lebe Boogbaa.

The camp was free for all students, including transportation and meals, which were provided by a number of local restaurants.