NUTLEY, NJ - Fourteen New Jersey high school students graduated from the Medical Internship Navigating Diversity & Science (MINDS) Program. at Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University this August. The 14 students were chosen from a pool of almost 300 applicants to the internship program, now in its second year.

Paola Tenezaca, a rising senior at Hackensack High School, learned about the program from her guidance counselor. She loved the program because it included so many fields of medicine including surgery and radiology. Tenezaca spoke of the plastic surgery component and the opportunity the interns had to suture wounds. "It's just amazing how the body heals" she said.

Tenezaca described the experience as "the art of the body," and looks forward to the time when she can "help people from the inside out."  As a part of the program, the students used robots that mimiced patients with specific conditions.

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In discussing the doctors working in the program, Tenezaca said they didn't treat the interns like high school students, but more like regular medical school students. Keep in mind that she, and the other interns, have not yet reached their senior year in high school, medical school students are well past high school and have at least four years of undergraduate study.

What made the program appealing to Tenezaca was the diversity, the program draws applicants from underrepresented communities. The programs is "something that changed my life in ways I never thought. Five years ago, I never thought I would be here." she said.

After her senior year, she hopes to go to Rutgers New Brunswick, in part because of the research opportunities. Her goal is to become a surgical oncologist.

The students’ research projects focused on important community issues which they ultimately presented to a three-judge panel. They addressed: noise pollution, water pollution, mortality rates in pregnant women, drug abuse, mental health in adolescence, and disparities impacting people with cancer.

This community-based pipeline program aligns with the School of Medicine mission to strengthen community, promote diversity, and increase the number of underrepresented students in medicine.

The Thursday evening graduation program also included a presentation by Jordan Thibault entitled, "African Americans and Alcohol Treatment. Thibault attends Newark Tech.

Elijah Austin, a rising senior at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Edison, NJ who learned about the MINDS program at a college fair, said she plans to be an obstetrician.

Austin gave a presentation "New Jersey Against High Caesarean Delivery Rate: Reduce the Overuse." The student presentations were given to an audience that included fellow interns, family members, faculty, and medical students

“I’ve always wanted to pursue a medical career and I thought this would be a good eye opener,’’ she said. “Talking to the various medical professionals, getting a look at what drew them to their specialty, it’s inspiring.’’

Victoria Morgan, a rising junior at Union County Academy for Allied Health Sciences in Scotch Plains, NJ, is considering a career as a nurse practitioner.

“I was interested in how health care professionals play a huge role in health care disparities,” she said. “I was intrigued by what I can do, beyond healing people. The new health professional is someone doing things in their community, advocating for people, helping them -- that’s what attracted to me this program.”

Bonita Stanton, M.D., founding dean of the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University, said “Our mission is to create a physician workforce that is capable of delivering excellent clinical care and optimal health to all individuals – irrespective of their socioeconomic status - and one that reflects the communities we are so privileged to serve.’’

“This internship provides gifted students with an opportunity to experience hands-on learning from dedicated physicians and allied health professionals from underrepresented communities and helps us achieve a goal of working to ensure future physicians mirror the communities where they practice,’’ said David S. Kountz, M.D., MBA, FACP, Associate Dean of Diversity and Equity at Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University.

The MINDS program, which places strong emphasis on the social determinants of health, includes physician-led workshops, hands-on skills labs, field trips, public speaking instruction, a pre-test and post-test to gauge progress, SAT preparation, and a capstone research project. When discussing the program, Tenezaca spoke about the public speaking component in the same sentences as patient skills.

A key goal of the innovative curriculum is to eliminate disparities in health outcomes regardless of socio-economic and other factors.

“We are committed to supporting students from underrepresented communities so they can harness their talents and help create a field of medical professionals as diverse as our population in New Jersey and beyond,’’ said Asia McCleary-Gaddy, Ph.D, director of Diversity & Equity at Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University.

The graduates are from underrepresented backgrounds from across Northern New Jersey. During the program, they experienced hands-on learning that included how to suture with surgeons and motivational interviewing with clinical psychologists. They also worked in the Emergency Room at Hackensack University Medical Center to interview patients affected by homelessness, domestic violence and substance abuse.

The following students from New Jersey high schools participated:

Kwamivi Amedeya                                  East Orange STEM Academy

Elijah Austin                                              St. Thomas Aquinas High School, Edison

Anahi Flores                                              Hackensack High School

Ashley Hyppolite                                      Benedictine Academy, Elizabeth

Ines Kenfack Donfack                              Newark Tech High School

Teju Keshiro                                              Union High School

Mikayla Montano                                     Columbia High School, Maplewood

Victoria Morgan                                       Union County Academy for Allied Health Sciences

Chukwudumebi Nwankwo                     Old Bridge High School

Luciana Salomone                                    Belleville High School

Izabre Springer                                         People’s Preparatory Charter School in Newark

Paola Tenezaca                                        Hackensack High School

Jordan Thibault                                         Newark Tech High School

Aaron Wenger                                           West Orange High School