Oregon Multicultural and Underserved Teens Turn Into OHSU MedStars to Experience Health Careers

07/14/03    Portland, Ore.

Area Health Education Centers' program gives 38 high schoolers first-hand look into different health-related careers


Laranda Lee has gone from being homeless to taking the first steps toward her dream of becoming a physician. Lee, 18, will be part of Area Health Education Centers MedStars Honors Program at Oregon Health & Science University. The program runs from Tuesday, June 15, through Saturday, July 19.

"I grew up with homelessness. I've lived in cars. We couch surfed a lot, sleeping wherever we could. Any sense of security was continually being pulled out from under me. There were times I could have been raped or killed. I could have been a prostitute or drug addict. I kept my focus on school no matter what," Lee said.

She also played soccer, which, she said helped channel her anger and frustration that life with her mother caused. Her interest in becoming an anesthesiologist was sparked at age 16 when she was at OHSU with her mother who suffers from fronto dementia. Fronto dementia causes personality changes such as the loss of inhibitions, aggressive behavior, people with this are easily distracted or compulsive in their actions.

"When I saw those nurses, doctors and others walking around I knew right then I want to be like those people. I wanted to help people. I realized, oh my gosh, I want to go to OHSU for school," Lee said.

Then, three years ago, she became part of Transitional Living Program in Medford, which provides assistance to homeless youth and provided her with host parents with whom she lived. It was the only home she had ever known and has since become her permanent home. She has also become an active advocate for homeless youth through various community groups, such as Northwest Network for Youth and Community Work Voices. She just graduated from North Medford High School and is already taking classes at Rogue Community College.

Other students coming to OHSU for MedStars also knew they wanted to be physicians. Whitney Alexander, 16, of northeast Portland, is one of those.

"I like helping people and I've always been fascinated with everything having to do with medicine," Alexander said. She'll be a senior at Grant High. Her goal is to be a plastic surgeon in reconstructive and cosmetic surgery. She volunteers at OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital and at Providence helping, as she said, "wherever she's needed."

These two will be among the thirty-eight students from 28 Oregon cities who have been chosen to participate in a five-day exploration of the life of a health care student and professional health care provider, starting on Tuesday, July 15. The MedStars Program was created to encourage multicultural and underserved high school students who are serious about careers in health care by giving them the opportunity to experience it for themselves.

The group will take part in a clinical skills lab where they'll learn all aspects of patient examinations, observe and participate in various research labs, and the surgical lab at Casey Eye Institute, and will spend an afternoon learning what a dentist does at the OHSU School of Dentistry.

The students actually began the program five weeks ago in their hometowns. Each was assigned one of four chronic diseases, which include arthritis, asthma, diabetes or hypertension, to research. They interviewed a patient and a health care provider for their specific disease. Each of the four groups of students will make oral and poster presentations at the end of MedStars week to share what they've learned with their parents, OHSU and AHEC staff, and their student mentors.