Duke Medical School Student Volunteers to Teach Durham Public School Health Classes
DURHAM, N.C. -- Maybe it's their youth, or maybe it's
because they're not viewed as traditional "authority figures,"
but for whatever reason, students from Duke's School of
Medicine have connected with high schoolers taking the required
health classes at the Durham School of the Arts.
More than 30 Duke medical students have taken time from
their hectic schedules of course work, labs and seeing patients
to volunteer at this magnet program for ninth through 12th
graders. As it turns out, the Duke students are learning how to
connect with teenagers and in so doing, are getting a lot out
of the experience as well.
"I observed a class and watched as young men and women
worked with a class of ninth and 10th graders discussing drugs
and how different drugs effect the body," said school principal
Ed Forsythe. "The kids were on the edge of their chairs. You
could hear a pin drop. It's obvious the Duke students come very
well prepared for each lesson, and I think our students respect
and respond to that."
Once a week, a team of three to four Duke medical students
teaches the health class on topics ranging from substance
abuse, sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, conflict
resolution, sexual orientation, racism and violence. The teams
use prepared lesson plans, role-playing games and other group
activities developed by Dr. Terrill Bravender, head of Duke's
adolescent medicine program and faculty sponsor of the
"A group of medical students came to me last year with a
desire to do meaningful work in the community," Bravender said.
"So together, we took a program I had developed in Boston while
at Harvard and modified it for use here in Durham. The response
from students, administrators and parents has been very
positive so far.
"I've been very impressed with the level of dedication of
the medical students and their desire to try to make a
difference in the community," Bravender added. "This enthusiasm
extends from the first-year medical students to the fourth-year
The program is referred to as HEY (Health, Education and
Youth) Durham, and both Duke and Durham school officials hope
that the program can eventually be expanded to include more
medical students and more Durham public schools next year.
During a typical class, while the Duke students are inside
the classroom, the school's regular health teacher is close by
in the hallway in case they are needed. So far, all has gone
For Forsythe, the Duke students are a welcome addition that
enhances the traditional health curriculum.
"We have a very competent group of health teachers here," he
said. "For some topics, however, it brings the subject matter
closer to the students' level to see young men and women who
are just a little bit older, but who have done their studies.
It almost feels like a conversation among peers instead of
Satish Gopal, a Duke medical student, believes that the
closeness in age is a important factor in how well they have
been received by the high school students.
"We want to be able to teach them about important health
issues, but we don't want to be seen as 'health teachers'," he
said. "We want the students to be comfortable and act like they
would around their friends. Most of us remember vividly being
in high school - it wasn't that long ago. In a lot of areas -
music, pop culture - we can still relate to them."
Out of this experience, Gopal, a third-year medical student,
is writing a research paper that will help him earn a master's
degree in public health. His goal is to determine whether or
not programs like HEY Durham have any effect on subsequent
behavior of high school students. For Gopal, the experience is
also important to a well-rounded medical education.
"Working with adolescents is something we don't get a lot of
experience with in our regular medical rotations," Gopal said.
"During pediatric rotations, you tend to see sick younger kids,
and not many adolescents. Now, I'm getting more comfortable
with this group - it's been really invaluable for me."
For Kristine Johnson, another third-year medical student,
the experience has also been an important learning
"I've gotten a better sense of how to generate connections
with adolescents," Johnson said. "I'm learning ways of talking
to them about different diseases or issues without being
intimidating. We are dealing with people who are making
important decisions that will affect their future - maybe I can
help impact their decisions in a positive way."
For those students who may not feel comfortable asking a
question or voicing a concern in public, there is a box in the
classroom where questions can be dropped off anonymously. The
questions are then researched by the medical students and
answered in next week's class.
This is the first time that medical school students have
been this involved at the Durham school, and Forsythe hopes
that the program will continue in the future.