Wright Academy students listened to a Tufts University School of Medicine student volunteer talk about measuring the heart's activity through an EKG or electrocardiogram.

Wright Academy students listened to a Tufts University School of Medicine student volunteer talk about measuring the heart's activity through an EKG or electrocardiogram, which they then saw in practice. Photo: Alonso Nichols / Tufts University

Medical Students Help Local Middle Schoolers Explore IDEAS in Medicine

Through a Community Service Learning program, more than 100 Wright Academy students are tutored by Tufts University School of Medicine students each year

Several years ago, when John Ruggiero asked Eugene Wright Science and Technology Academy students to describe their career goals, some found it hard to think of jobs that would take them beyond their Chelsea neighborhoods—and many weren’t familiar with colleges in the Boston area.

It is one of the reasons why Wright Academy instructor Ruggiero, co-lead teacher of the IDEAS in Medicine program, finds it so important to help students learn about their career and education options, especially in the science and medical fields.

A partnership between Wright Academy and Tufts University School of Medicine, IDEAS is a year-long medical education program in which first- and second-year medical students develop and deliver a science curriculum that complements what the middle school students are learning in the seventh and eighth grade. 

“It's why I teach,” Ruggiero said when asked about the impact of the program. “As a person who majored in medical science, I want to bring along some students who will be the next generation of medical professionals."

IDEAS is one of more than a dozen programs Tufts School of Medicine students can choose in order to fulfill their Community Service Learning (CSL) requirement, which are facilitated in partnership with the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life. Medical students engage in collaboration, mentorship, and education work with community partners for at least 50 hours while working toward their degrees.

For IDEAS, which was established in 2010 by Jonathan Brower, M13, and Michael Kwak, M13, Tufts student tutors visit Wright Academy every Friday afternoon throughout the school year and work with more than 100 students to support their learning and development.

As part of the medicine-based curriculum, Wright students are invited on a field trip to the Tufts School of Medicine for a day to get hands-on experience in the Michael J. Anatomy Lab, the Camilla Bessey Thompson and Paul D. Thompson, M.D., Clinical Skills and Simulation Center, among other spaces.

Recently, Meghan Mulvey, A21, M25, the co-president of IDEAS in Medicine, and Caitlyn Martinez, M25, the field trip coordinator, planned the end-of-year event which took place in December for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

During the field trip, 110 Wright students had the opportunity to examine donor organs at dissection tables, guided by Tufts tutors and anatomy lab staff—a highlight for many of the trip. At other stops throughout the day, the tutors provided instructions and demonstrations on performing CPR, checking reflexes, evaluating medical imaging, and reading electrocardiograms.

Martinez had the support of 40 medical student volunteers and 10 Wright chaperones on the day of the event, which helped the packed schedule run smoothly.

Having had passions for science since childhood, picking a CSL program was an easy choice for both Mulvey and Martinez.

“Working with kids really energizes me,” Mulvey said. “Sometimes people tell us that they don’t know how we run the program every Friday afternoon, but this is the best part of our week for most of us. It’s something that we look forward to.”

Martinez found the program attractive because it was similar to the community-engaged science work she completed during her undergraduate program at Duke University, but even more focused on medicine.

“I think it's good to tailor the curriculum as much as possible so these students are getting more of an idea of what medicine's actually like,” Martinez said. “I don't think as a seventh grader, although I probably said I wanted to be a doctor, that I really understood what that meant. These students actually know what the lungs do or how the heart works.”

After a long absence due to the pandemic, Ruggiero said it was inspiring to see the students back on Tufts’ Health Sciences Campus.

“Students were able to experience a real visceral reaction you feel when you pick up a human brain or a spinal cord or a knee with still the soft tissue intact,” Ruggiero said. “That’s something that you connect to but also are in awe of at the same time.

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