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Local Teens Come to DU For Week-Long Immersion in Health Professions

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Nicole Gordon

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Next week, 16 high school students from Denver and Aurora will arrive at on campus for a week-long immersion into health-related professions. They will meet with faculty, students and professionals, visit a local hospital, undertake short research projects, learn about the college experience, and live in the dorms for six days.

It's DU's first time hosting Health Professions Highway – Creating a Self-Sustaining, Culturally Diverse Pipeline to Develop Future Healthcare Professionals. The program is the brainchild of professors Barbekka Hurtt and Nancy Lorenzon, both in the Department of Biological Sciences, and DU alum Stephanie Tran ('14, Biology) at CollegeTrack – Aurora, whose mission is to empower students from underserved communities to graduate college.

The idea for the program was hatched between Hurtt and Tran when they met during the grand opening of DU's Knoebel Institute for Healthy Aging. Both agreed on the need to expose students to career opportunities within healthcare and strengthen diversity among providers to better represent changing demographics.

"Research shows that having healthcare providers who accurately represent the diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds of those they serve can increase health and wellness outcomes," Hurtt says. "We'd like to help high school students from underserved communities succeed educationally and professionally so that they can return to their communities as health practitioners."

With funding provided by a grant from DU's CCESL Public Good Fund and support from the Pre-Professional/Allied Health Advising Center and Division of Natural Sciences & Mathematics, Hurtt and Lorenzon laid the groundwork for a summer program. Tran, an academic coach at CollegeTrack, recruited students from Aurora's Rangeview High School and Denver's Abraham Lincoln High School, both of which have low college enrollment rates.

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"The students we serve have goals but don't always have the resources to learn the pathways into careers in health," Tran says. "This experience should help them make connections in the field so that they can see themselves in the positions they aspire to, making it no longer just a dream but a reality."

As part of the program, the students will explore topics such as access to healthcare and health equity. They'll spend a day shadowing different professionals at Denver's Porter Adventist Hospital, attend a panel discussion with health professionals from Denver and Aurora, and participate in a college lecture and lab session. They'll also tour campus with undergraduate mentors and gain valuable insight on how to navigate the college application and financial aid processes. At a banquet on the program's final day, the students will present posters on their health research projects to their peers and families.

Eight DU undergraduate students in biology, chemistry, and engineering who have demonstrated interest in health professions will serve as mentors for the program, building their knowledge of healthcare while developing leadership skills for their own futures.

The program is part of a larger initiative at DU to both develop student potential in healthcare professions as well as partner with healthcare organizations in the Denver community. Last year, the university's Pre-Professional/Allied Health Advising Center hosted Health Disparities in Denver, a two-day immersion program for undergraduate pre-health students to learn about the social determinants of health and the obstacles that result in health disparities.

"There's already a huge interest in healthcare at DU, spanning subjects from natural sciences to psychology and sociology to law and social work," Lorenzon says. "We want to continue growing these interdisciplinary interests and collaborations at DU and with our community collaborators, such as Denver Health, Porter Hospital, College Track and others."