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Miniature medical school: Utah students try their hand at surgery

Published: Saturday, April 5 2014 9:14 p.m. MDT

Scott Mills, right, a student at Brighton High School, gets congratulated by Lillian Hook, a student at Elk Ridge Middle School, after a good score in the "Pea Drop" competition at the Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons (SAGES) Mini Medical School Boot Camp and Interactive Experience at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 5, 2014. 100 high school students from the Salt Lake City area learned about the field of surgery through lecture and simulation to gain appreciation for working in an operating room.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Family vacations almost always included helping people at the scene of some accident, which sparked an interest in surgery for one local doctor.

"My dad was always jumping out of the car to render medical assistance to someone," said Dr. Raymond Price, a surgeon, director of graduate surgical education at Intermountain Medical Center and co-chairman on the national guidelines committee for the Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons, which hosted about 75 Utah high school students at a miniature medical school on Saturday.

"The younger we can get them interested and give them a different perspective of what's out there, maybe they will get involved," Price said. "At this age, kids have an inherent desire to do something that helps others."

He said the medical specialty of surgery is experiencing a nationwide shortage, specifically throughout the Western states and rural areas of the country. The only medical school in the state is at the University of Utah, which Price said offers a unique residency program with the partnering University Hospital, George E. Wahlen Veteran Affairs Medical Center and Primary Children's Hospital.

Students from throughout the state participated in various, meticulous, hands-on activities on Saturday, to teach them what it takes to become a surgeon.

A game of Super Monkey Ball helped kids develop speed, while special equipment taught them to move plastic shapes on a peg board with precision. Both skills were employed in learning surgical knots and sutures.

"We're trying to show them that what we do is not far from what they enjoy doing now," Price said, referring to the video-game nature of some surgical equipment, specifically laproscopy.

A self-proclaimed video game addict, 17-year-old Ronak Intwala, who attends Highland High School, said he has always been fascinated with the medical field.

"It is so glamorized on television. It is fun to see what it is really all about," he said.

Scott Mills, of Brighton High School, said he's always planned on becoming a surgeon and heard about Saturday's opportunity during his medical terminology class.

"I like the idea of being able to apply what I know to help people," he said. "People need help and I don't like standing around and watching problems happen."

Mills, 16, said that while he's somewhat squeamish at the sight of blood and gets shaky under pressure, he's committed to becoming a surgeon. "It'll be worth it," he said.

And after more than a decade of schooling and attending school and working in several different states, Dr. Nate Richards, a surgeon at LDS Hospital, said he is glad he stuck to it.

"I'm very passionate about what I do. I love being able to take care of people relatively quickly," he said. "People come to me suffering and in a lot of pain and I can take care of it in surgery and when I'm done, hopefully they feel better."

Richards said being in the operating room is exciting and "every day, it is something different."

"We tell kids we've got the best jobs ever. We wear pajamas all day and play Nintendo all day," Price said.

While the participating high schoolers were getting a leg up on their medical-school-hopeful peers, more than 2,000 surgeons (SAGES members) were brushing up on their practice, learning about new tools and procedures and networking with other physicians. It was the first time the three-day annual conference was held in Salt Lake City.

Email: wleonard@deseretnews.com, Twitter: wendyleonards

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