MINDS Program Cultivates Curiosity of Youth from Diverse Bac   

MINDS Program Cultivates Curiosity of Youth from Diverse Backgrounds

The hands pulled on the gloves, and then filled the syringes, flicking them several times to jostle the air bubbles out. Filled to 1 mL, the needle points sought out the perfect angle - and then penetrated the flesh just far enough to administer the solution with the perfect press of the plungers. 

The solution was saline. The flesh was half an orange. And the hands were those of curious high schoolers from New Jersey, already thinking of medical careers. 

“It was kind of scary at first - but I’m glad I got to know how to do it,” said Narissa Heslop, a rising 11th grader at the Frank J. Cicarell Academy in Elizabeth. “I want to be a psychiatrist. But I find all of it interesting. I feel like I can do anything.”


It’s just another day in the M.I.N.D.S. Program at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, which seeks out promising high-school candidates who are historically under-represented in medicine: those who identify as African American, Latinos/Hispanic American, and Native American (American Indian, Alaska Native, or Native Hawaiian), who are first-generation, or those who are financially disadvantaged.

M.I.N.D.S. (Medical Internship Navigating Diversity and Science) is a six-week paid internship for high school juniors and seniors interested in pursuing a career in medicine. Interns will learn about different medical professions, health disparities in New Jersey, and the social determinants of health.

“This kind of program is so critical for the future of medicine not just at our School, but across the educational landscape,” said David S. Kountz, M.D., M.B.A., M.A.C.P., Senior Associate Dean, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. “Having better representation from all groups is essential to optimizing the quality of care and lowering health care costs in the US, and the health care industry will never achieve its full potential without full representation from all of the socio-demographic groups in the country.”

This summer’s schedule includes discussing brain dissections, public speaking, medical research, social determinants of health, internal medicine, radiology, and a list of other topics, all taught by experts from the medical school and the Hackensack Meridian Health network. The students also work on research projects over the length of the course - and they even receive all-important SAT preparation classes to prepare them for their futures. The students also get: a $1,200 stipend; CPR/BLS and Narcan Certification; and various field trips to community organizations and universities, among other benefits. 


On this Thursday morning in mid-July, the 15 students not only practiced their orange injections. They also practiced a blood draw on a synthetic IV arm carried in a long case by Christine Fernandez. M.D., a physician who works in the emergency department at Hackensack University Medical Center.

Fernandez not only showed the high schoolers how to appropriately do these procedures - she also spoke about her own upbringing in the Bronx. She said she became a nurse to follow in her mother’s footsteps - and then committed to become the doctor making decisions in the health care setting. 

“I always wanted more,” said Fernandez. “I wanted to be the one who got called.”

“This is something I wish I had in high school,” added Mojisola Adesanya, the co-director of the MINDS program. It’s a great opportunity for high-schoolers to get a taste of what they can do with their careers.”

“We need better education for all our doctors - and we need doctors from all different backgrounds,” said Tade Ayeni, Ed.D., the director of the school’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. 

Jaden Barker, a rising 11th grader at the Academy of Allied Health Sciences in Plainfield, said he already has plans to pursue interventional cardiology as a career. He is inspired to take the path because some family members have heart conditions, and also because he is “hands-on” and likes to get directly involved in fixing problems. 

The early training through the MINDS program, he said, is just what the doctor ordered.

“It’s very interactive; it’s very didactic,” he said. “It’s very different from other kinds of learning - and that’s a great thing.”

To find out more about the program and how to apply, visit the MINDS webpage here.

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