Every Saturday during the school year, a group of Washington high school juniors and seniors meets at Stoddard Terrace Recreation Center in Anacostia for an afternoon of seminars and lectures. The students, who are participating in Howard University's Health Science Institute, spend Saturdays afternoons listening to lectures by professionals in various health care fields, finding out how they too can enter a health career.
Karl Hammonds, a Howard med student and research assistant for the institute, explained that the program was set up in 1973 by a group of Haward students to interest black inner city youths in health, and allied health fields, such as medical technology or physical therapy.
There is a scarcity of blacks in health fields, Hammonds said, pointing to figures showing that while the number of blacks in medical colleges rose from 1,042 in 1969 to 3.456 in 1975, blacks in 1975 accounted for only 6.2 per cent of the total medical college population.
Hammonds says the problem is two-fold. Many blacks are not prepared to compete academically, he said, and there is also a serious lack of information about health careers. Interested students learn only about the more obvious health careers - doctor or dentist - without knowing they can become physician's assistants or medical technologists, two of the almost 200 health related careers that are both interesting and rewarding, yet cost less and require a shorter period of study.
"We destroy a lot of myths the kids have," Hammonds said. "THey came in thinking it (a career in health) takes too long, that the work's too hard, or that it costs too much. We show them that none of that is true, and that if they really want it, they can get it."
During the spring, 30 students are chosen from applicants from Cardoza, McKinley, Dunbar, Roosevelt and Coolidge high schools for the HSI core program. The Core program begins in the summer with six weeks of classes. Students live in dormitories at Howard.
Three days a week are devoted to classroom and laboratory study of mathematics, chemistry, biology and physics. And two days a week students are exposed to two specialties of their own choosing, in an on-site clinical experience called a "preceptorship." Thus, in addition to the basic scientific background needed for any health career, HSI participants may elect to work and observe in an obstetrics and gynecology clinic and an emergency room, or in a maternal clinic and a dentist's office.
The intensive summer program is followed by Saturday sessions during the school year which continue the tutoring and counseling process, and cluminate in a spring Health Education Learning Project (HELP).
Students return to their high schools and, using bulletin boards, posters and lectures, communicate information about a specific health area. Last year students did projects about hypertension and sickle cell anemia, diseases to which blacks are particularly susceptible.
Does the HSI work?
Hammonds says it is too early to tell. "Students who were in the first two years of the program are just entering college now," he pointed out. "In five years we'll be able to tell how many have actually gone on to become doctors or nurses."
A preliminary study of 50 students from the 1973 and 1974 programs shows that 42 have gone to college or some other form of post-secondary education. Of those 42, 36 elected to go into health or health-related careers.
In addition to its summer "core program," HSI also conducts a nine-month "outreach" program. Core program students assist at a Saturday lecture series given at Stoddard Terrace Recreation Center in SE Washington, and clinical tours and counseling are provided for some 70 high school students not enrolled in the core program. HSI volunteers wil also provide talks and demonstrations for community groups on request.
The Health Science Institute is run primarily by 50 Howard students and professional volunteers. There are two paid office staff members and student tutors and counselors receive work study funds during the summer. Dr. Clarence Lee, an associate dean at Howard's College of Liberal Arts, serves as the director of HSI.
HSI is funded by several Howard student groups, and through the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
Students interested in participating in the 1977-78 sessions can obtain applications by writing Health Science Institute. P.O. Box 821, Howard University, Washington, D.C. 20059. No academic credit is given for the summer program.
Community groups who would like HSI volunteers to provide a lecture or demonstration can call 636-6659 or 636-6389.