It is a rare but extraordinary thing when a high school student has the opportunity to explore a prospective career through hands-on work and intensive engagement. It is even rarer when that prospective career is medicine. With support from a Meg Page ’74 Fellowship, Erin Butler ’24 recently spent time with current medical students at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School in the classroom, the anatomy lab, and the exam room.
Erin’s passion for science and other STEM fields deepened during her mid year at Taft, ignited in part by Mr. Parente’s Honors Chemistry course. Parente’s enthusiasm for the subject matter, extensive knowledge, and exceptional classroom presence inspired Erin to not only continue studying chemistry, but to consider applying that knowledge to a career in medicine.
“I was looking for a program that would immerse me in the schedule and day-to-day life of a medical student, a position that seems amazing as well as quite daunting and intense,” Erin explains. “I chose this program because of its diversified and in-depth experiences, ranging from cadaver dissections to medical ethics debates.”
The program is designed to give participants a broad view of the fundamentals of medicine while connecting them more intimately with current medical students and their daily challenges, accountabilities, and routines. Erin and her peers began each day in the classroom studying the anatomy and physiology of various bodily systems, including the digestive, nervous, cardiovascular, and pulmonary systems. Their work then took them to the anatomy or cadaver lab, where they would observe (and often handle!) the human organs and structures they learned about in the classroom. The day would often conclude in the clinical suites working with standardized patients (trained medical actors), bringing the whole of the day’s learning together in a practical and applied setting.
“The most amazing part of the experience for me was working with cadavers,” Erin says. “We got to see and touch the inner workings of the digestive system, a brain with an attached spinal cord, bones and muscle tissue, and the chest cavity, including the heart and lungs. Many people do not have this opportunity until medical school, which makes it even more special and unique. After the hands-on portion, we had a discussion about the ethics of cadaver use in medicine. Brown hosts a special event for the families of people who have donated their bodies to the medical school at which the med students meet and express their gratitude to donor families.”
Conversations around medical ethics were not limited to cadaver use: Erin and her peers also considered, among other things, the ethical implications of medical treatment plans and choices made daily by physicians, including the ramifications a doctor must consider in deciding if one patient might receive an organ transplant over another.
“I came away with new understandings about careers in medicine,” Erin says. “One of the most important things that I learned was that medicine does not follow the same path for everyone. The field is full of millions of different specialties and opportunities and everyone’s journey will look a little different. Building on this, health professionals neverr stop learning or innovating. The frontier of medicine is pushed forward every day and I am excited for all of the possibilities that are yet to come.”
To honor her commitment to compassionate health care, the Meg Page’74 fellowship is awarded annually to students who wish to explore an experience or course of study devoted to the provision of better health care in areas such as public health, family planning, medical research, mental health, and non-Western practices of healing.