the Faint of Heart
It’s late Wednesday afternoon in early December, cold,
stormy and almost dark, a day not fit for human or beast.
But all the same, 40 teens age 14 to 17 are braving the elements
— some from nearby towns like East Orange and Irvington,
others from as far away as Cherry Hill and Teaneck —
to willingly extend an already long school day to 9 PM. Their
exuberant greetings, back slaps and teasing banter to fellow
pre-medical honors program participants (whom they haven’t
seen for an entire week) bounce off the walls of the usually
sedate hallways of UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School.
Up they go in the elevator — about an equal number
of girls and boys from every ethnic group that composes the
Garden State, many who dream of becoming doctors — to
one of the pathology labs on C level. The smell of formalin
is overpowering. Pathology is not for the faint of heart,
but all the teens put on gowns and gloves and line up on the
risers to hear Seena Aisner, MD, professor and vice chair
of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, give
an animated talk about diseased livers and lungs, bones and
joints, and about the laboratory analysis of human disease.
The teens listen raptly, and most come forward eagerly to
take a closer look, touch and even pick up and examine the
preserved body parts when they are invited.
A few shy away, looking pale.
Medical students ring the room, ready to jump in where they’re
needed. Jacob Lindenthal, PhD, masterminds the extensive curriculum
offered each fall to more than 250 New Jersey high school
students. Eight weeks of dinner hour seminars, lectures and
group discussions (yes, dinner is provided) cover topics such
as bioterrorism; infectious diseases; muscles, joints and
movement; medications; male and female reproductive systems;
forensic medicine and getting into medical school. NJMS faculty
volunteer their time to present at the courses.
“We bend over backwards to help these students reach
higher,” is the motto of all involved, says Lindenthal,
and this is a “community” effort. When these students
receive their diplomas at the last session, not only will
they be more knowledgeable about many medical topics, but
they will be more familiar with the medical school and less
intimidated by the very walls that protect them from the rain.
Some will return to study here, and graduate to be New Jersey’s
up-and- coming generation of stellar physicians.