Early Exposure Inspires Big Dreams 

CPS partnership gives students a jumpstart on career paths in medicine

March 15, 2013

By the age of six, Isa Alvarez knew that she wanted to become a doctor.


"I always knew what career path I wanted to pursue," she said, "and now I feel like I'm taking the first step toward making my dream come true."


Now a junior in high school, Isa is one of 18 students from George Westinghouse College Prep (GWCP) High School to have been accepted as part of the Northwestern Medicine Scholars Program, a partnership between GWCP and Northwestern Memorial Hospital that inspires students to explore careers in medicine and science. Now in its third year, the NM Scholars Program allows students to learn alongside some of the nation's leading physicians, participating in lectures, tours, live surgery viewings and hands-on learning experiences.


"It's amazing to see how much the program has grown in such a short time," said Dr. Janice Jackson, Principal of GWCP. "This partnership creates an incredible opportunity for our students, and the amount of time and resources that are provided for them is truly humbling."


The program spans the students' entire high school career, providing support in the forms of test preparation, individual mentoring, and assistance with applications to college and medical school.


"The partnership with GWCP is a great example of the strength of Northwestern Medicine," said Erica E Marsh, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist who co-founded the NM Scholars Program. "It demonstrates what is possible when physicians, researchers, and hospital leadership put all of our insights together to come up with something positive for our Chicago community."


In addition to their work during the school year, NM Scholars spend three weeks each summer at Northwestern learning about a specific area of medicine from experts in their field a program that begins with students being presented with honorary white coats to symbolize their potential careers in medicine. Last year's summer intensive focused on cardiology, with students learning to perform CPR, viewing a live surgery broadcast, dissecting bovine hearts, and touring the hospital.


NM Scholar Pragya Jha saw the summer intensive as a sign that what she hopes to do in her career will have a positive impact on the community. "Learning about the cardiovascular system made me want to make a change in people's lives for the better," she said. "I'm very enthusiastic about the program."


The enthusiasm is mutual, according to Dr. Clyde Yancy, chief of the division of cardiology and associate director of the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute. "I've been very impressed with the scholars," he said. "The amount of time they devoted last summer was inspiring, and our program is building upon the wonderful things they're learning at their high school."


The overall goal of the NM Scholars program is to provide talented students with early exposure to careers in science and medicine while helping them see how their hard work can have a direct impact on their own communities. "I want to be a leader and example to the people in my neighborhood," said 2013 NM Scholar Mayra Martinez. "This program helps me see that anything is possible if I put my mind to it."