BALTIMORE – Rule No. 1 for becoming a medical student: Don’t get grossed out.
Nearly 150 people learned that last week at the first day of “Mini Med School,” where they watched a video of medical students slicing open real human bodies, and then were invited to hold real human organs. No one appeared to be disgusted.
“Learning about the body is fascinating to me,” said Alicia Boglin, 19, a freshman biology student at Morgan State University who was at Wednesday’s class. It was the second time she and her mother, Rhonda, attended the annual program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
The Mini Med School, now in its third year, is open to anyone who is interested in real medical school or in simply learning more about their health. Students attend class once a week for five weeks, learning about topics ranging from colon cancer to hormone replacement therapy.
The concept began at the University of Colorado more than a decade ago and has since spread nationwide, although each program operates independently. Maryland adopted the program as a way to inform the surrounding community about the work at the school, said Donald Wilson, dean of the School of Medicine.
Since it began, the program at Maryland has attracted more than 300 people, said school spokesman Larry Roberts. Students at last week’s class ranged from schoolkids to senior citizens.
Those who participate in the program get a certificate, but Maryland officials hope that Mini Med School graduates — or their children or grandchildren, for older participants — will ultimately develop interest in medical school, Roberts said.
For some, a medical degree is their ultimate goal. Alicia Boglin hopes to become a gynecologist. Erin Graham, 27, of Baltimore, has worked in information technology for five years but has always wanted to be a doctor.
“It’s something I’ve been thinking about since I was very little,” she said. She has applied to 17 medical schools for the fall 2004 semester.
By offering anatomy for the first time, the Mini Med School tests whether potential students can handle one of medical school’s most-crucial requirements: dissecting cadavers of people who donated their bodies in the name of science.
Many students have never touched or even seen a dead body, said Larry Anderson, a Maryland professor who taught the Mini Med School anatomy class.
“They know what they have to do, but they don’t know how they’re going to react,” he said.
But he told the Mini Med students what he tells his real students: They are expected to have “reverence for life by respect for death.”
“This person gave this body for you to learn,” said Anderson, who refers to the cadavers as teachers. “They come into the lab dead, but they’re still teaching.”
When Anderson was in medical school, students had to memorize every “bump and ridge” in the human body from a textbook first. Today, his students often learn those details through experience, when they first cut into a cadaver or work on a live patient.
But that knowledge is still essential. When Anderson had emergency surgery in March for an abdominal hernia, he looked up to see one of his former students operating on him.
“Don’t worry, Dr. Anderson,” the doctor assured him. “I know the anatomy.”