WAILUKU - This summer, seven high school students experienced what it is like to be a doctor as they made rounds with physicians at the hospital, witnessed surgeries and even dealt with dying patients.
Even though the annual high school medical mentorship program may have been challenging as students worked through difficult medical terminology at Maui Memorial Medical Center's medical library and were challenged intellectually by doctors who questioned them frequently about what they were learning, the teens said it was fun and all worthwhile.
"I had the time of my life at that program," said Baldwin High School senior Skyler Mendoza. "It was really nice, we got our own one-on-one training with your personal doctor.
"I've been wanting to do a career in the medical field for a while now. I just wanted to make sure I could handle it, and I was interested after seeing what it was really like," explained the 17-year-old Waikapu resident, who witnessed the removal of benign tumors from a patient's face and another's nasal canal.
Mendoza said he hopes to study pulmonology (chest medicine) because he was inspired by his mentor and head of the medical mentorship program, Dr. Melvin Burton, a pulmonologist who also directs the Critical Care Unit at Maui Memorial Medical Center.
Mendoza said he hopes to return to Maui one day to practice medicine.
And that is exactly what Burton hopes will be the outcome of his 8-year program, inspiring Maui students to pursue a career in medicine and return home to fill the need for more doctors on the island.
Burton said he also started the program in 2004 when there were "negative images" of Maui Memorial Medical Center, and he felt that by getting students involved they could see what was going on and tell their parents.
Over the years, Burton and his colleagues have taken 49 Maui island high school students under their wings for the summer program.
"This year's group was probably the most outspoken of all the groups," Burton said, speculating that over the years word got out on what doctors expected of the students. "These kids were self-starters. They were not the kind that were quiet. They were right up front, participating and inquiring about anything and everything."
Alyssa Pascua, also now a senior at Baldwin, wants to pursue a career in forensic science or nursing.
"I think I enjoyed hanging with the doctors the most. They are so fun and exciting. They know so much so you can ask them so many questions," said the 16-year-old Wailuku resident.
"Ever since I was a kid, I had an interest in the medical field," she said. But "I wasn't completely sure that's what I wanted to do. Now I think I'm definitely going to do something in the medical field."
Pascua, who worked mostly with Dr. Constantin Novoselsky, said she enjoyed the time she spent with patients the most.
"Because when they get better, they look so happy," she said.
In Mendoza's mentorship, he experienced the emotional side of having patients die. But he said he found out that he could separate his emotions from his work, and he understands the sometimes sad consequences of medicine.
He said the beginning of the program was the hardest because "doctors have their own medical language," and he and the other students were unfamiliar with acronyms and abbreviations that doctors used.
"We as students don't have any idea what they are saying," Mendoza said.
But Mendoza apparently fared well. Burton said Mendoza was able to blurt out some answers to his questions even before nurses were able to.
Although Burton said Mendoza had the advantage of being with a doctor the whole time, unlike the nurses, so he knew more background and facts.
"But I think the message is (that) by him being there, by students being here, and talking about concepts, it forces us all to think carefully," Burton said.
He said having the students around made doing hospital rounds "entertaining and rewarding."
During the program, students were assigned to physicians, including those who specialize in internal medicine, nephrology, general surgery and anesthesiology. Radiologists, cardiologists and other doctors also all contributed their time.
Other students who participated were Seo Yeon Orite, Danae Olaso, Kylie Yamada, Jessica Owen and Jared Toba.
All students received an academic award of $1,000 upon successfully completing the program.
The program is supported by the Maui County Medical Society, Maui Memorial medical staff and Maui Chest Medicine. The hospital's human resource and education departments also played important roles in getting the students cleared and oriented to work in a hospital environment, Burton said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.