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High school students who may become the first in their families to attend college will be able to conduct medical research this summer on surgery topics at the University of Wisconsin.

The UW School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH) was one of nine institutions nationwide to receive grants from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to establish its Clinical Research Experiences for High School Students (CREHSS). The foundation launched the program because minorities remain underrepresented in medical research careers. The foundation received 63 proposals for the first year of its program, and selected nine, including the UW’s, for funding.

Approximately 20 members of the UW Department of Surgery faculty have agreed to mentor student researchers. Their expertise ranges from vascular surgery to reconstructive surgery research, and research topics span the field of surgery including wound healing, cancer, kidney transplantation and patient surgical outcomes.

“Our overall goal is to interest the best and the brightest in careers in medicine, especially careers in surgery,” said Dr. Herbert Chen, MD, chair of the Division of General Surgery. “They may have an idea of what a surgeon does from television, but we want them to see how surgeons advance medical knowledge through research, patient education and clinical work, as well.”

Students will participate in research seminars with faculty and learn the principles for clinical research using human subjects, as well as participate in individual projects.

Dr. Chen says that the high school students will also interact with UW medical students taking part in the summer Shapiro Research program, as well as with surgical residents. Chen says he participated in a similar program when he was a high school student in Marshfield, Wis., and knows how early exposure to research can help shape students’ career goals.

The plan is to begin the program with five students per summer. Students in the surgery program will be selected from those enrolled in UW-Madison’s Precollege Enrichment Opportunity for Learning Excellence (PEOPLE) program. PEOPLE is a pre-college pipeline for students of color and low-income students, most of whom could become the first in their families to attend college.

“The Surgery Research Program is one of the latest and most exciting additions to the college major and career exploration internships offered through the PEOPLE program with the help of our UW-Madison campus partnerships,” PEOPLE Executive Director Jacqueline DeWalt said. “This partnership in particular is a pivotal step toward fulfilling our goal to introduce PEOPLE scholars to majors, research, graduate school and full careers not only in medicine, but all of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) areas.”

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