SMASH Joins Cadre of Surgery Summer Programs for High School Students

July 23, 2018

Stanford’s Department of Surgery now offers three programs for high school students: the Clinical Anatomy Summer Program (CASP), Stanford Science Technology and Reconstructive Surgery (StaRS) Internship Program, and—new this summer—the Summer Math and Science Honors (SMASH) Academy.

“S-SPIRE wanted to become more involved in the community,” said S-SPIRE Social Sciences Researcher Serena Bidwell. “We decided to look for partner programs that are free for kids and make a long-term investment in the students.”

Bidwell and General Surgery Professional Development Resident Dr. Miquell Miller chose to team-up with SMASH because of its commitment to providing STEM-intensive education for underrepresented high school students of color. The 3-year program accepts approximately 40-45 rising sophomores per cohort. While SMASH Stanford has been in operation since 2011, the medical exposure curriculum is a novel addition.

“We’re exposing these students to medicine for the first time,” said Bidwell. “We’re trying to incorporate using the surgery tools in the [Goodman Surgical Education Center] and tours of Clinical Anatomy into the schedule in the hopes that these kids will see technology as part of modern medicine.”

In addition to hands-on experience working with laparoscopic and robotic instruments, students also learned vital signs essentials—including how to take a patient’s blood pressure—and snapped selfies in white medical coats.

“There are negative photos of minorities in the media every day,” said Miller. “I hope this positive image of them takes root and they believe that they can become a doctor.”

Stanford STaRs focuses on offering opportunities to high-potential, low-income students as well.

“Some of my interns think they don’t belong, that this is a white man’s world,” said Dr. Jill Helms, a professor in the Division of Plastic Surgery and director of the STaRS program. “I don’t care if they choose medicine as long as they leave believing that they can do anything.”  

The STaRS program has a more research-centric curriculum, focusing on benchwork and time in the lab.

“This internship experience gives students hands-on skills that will facilitate obtaining a lab internship as a freshman in college,” said Helms. “These positions are very competitive. To ensure they move to the next level, the [learning outcomes] can’t be abstract.”

Although Helms has been cultivating young talent in her lab for almost two decades, the program was unofficial until about six years ago.

“This program wouldn’t exist without administrative support,” said Helms. “I appreciate that [Division of Plastic Surgery Chief] Dr. Jim Chang encouraged me to formalize the program.”

Helms also credits the postdocs in her lab for their considerable mentorship.

“Without somebody who believes that there is true value in teaching high school students how to section tissues, things don’t work,” says Helms.

Stanford Surgery’s longest-running summer program, CASP, would also cease to function without the support of the medical students, physician assistant students and anatomy scholars who teach the assorted lectures and labs.

“We give the [program participants] the chance to touch the instruments and manipulate the screens,” said Dr. Miguel Angeles, a lecturer in the Division of Clinical Anatomy and head of CASP. “We also expose them to different procedures; [Division of Clinical Anatomy Chief] Sakti [Srivastava] demonstrates a carpal tunnel release, and I demonstrate thoracotomies, so the students can see how a lung and heart look in the human body.”

The idea to create a program that would reach high school students in the community was originally conceived by Dr. Lawrence Mathers, who served as chief of the clinical anatomy division until 2007.

“Dr. Mathers used to bring high school students into the labs to observe and see different procedures,” said Dr. Angeles.

Today, the CASP curriculum includes hands-on skill learning.

“Learning to suture has been one of my favorite parts of the week,” said Tanya Lulla, one of the CASP participants. “It’s one of the most interactive activities, and it’s a skill we’ll need to know if we decide to go into medicine.”

Despite the differences in the various programs, the goal remains the same.

“Medicine isn’t something most kids are exposed to unless they have a family member in the field,” said Angeles. “Our main goal is just to give them a glimpse into what medicine is, make it a possibility.”