Each person takes about 20,000 breaths in a day, and the throng of elementary students devoted a portion of them to gasps, giggles, murmurs and yells during an after-school anatomy lesson on Halloween.

Vincentia Onuegbulem, a second-year medical student at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, led the segment on the lungs. “Our lungs are always working hard,” she told the roughly 50 students at Meadowbrook Elementary. “Think about 20,000 breaths a day.”

Onuegbulem and a cohort of her peers help lead Mini-Medical School, a monthly after-school program meant to galvanize children to consider careers in medicine. The program works primarily in schools like Meadowbrook whose student body is mostly Black or Latino.

“It’s really nice to just allow them to see that people that look like them are in spaces such as medical school,” second-year medical student Asya Pitre told the Report. “‘Although you may not see it in your family, this could be possible for you if you’re interested in science and medicine.’”

Pitre is the first person in her family to go to college, and the mentorship she received at the University of North Texas spurred her toward medicine. The Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine is part of The University of North Texas Health Science Center.

Now, Pitre is the president of the Student National Medical Association chapter in Fort Worth, which coordinates Mini-Medical School. 

The association’s goal is to support minority students and increase representation in medicine. In Texas, for example, Black and Latino primary care physicians are underrepresented compared to the state’s population.

When Pitre sought a leadership role within the association, she pitched Mini-Medical School in her application. Afterward, she learned a version of it already existed, albeit smaller and less frequent. “I wanted to make it a point in my time here at TCOM to more consistently go to more schools,” she said. Her first iteration took place in March. 

This semester, she and her peers have organized four, hourlong Mini-Medical Schools, including the one on Halloween, and they’ve scheduled two more before winter break. Each event takes place during Fort Worth After School, a free after-school program that provides students with enrichment activities like Mini-Medical School. 

On Halloween, the Meadowbrook students squirmed in auditorium chairs, eager to interact, eager to ask and answer questions as Pitre, Onuegbulem and their peers, each in white coats, talked about the body: heart, lungs and patella. At one point, the second- through fifth-graders formed two lines to handle — and implement — a clinical hammer, which providers tap below a patient’s knee to test reflexes. 

Asya Pitre, middle, shows an elementary school student the patella on Alicia Segovia’s knee. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

The program is brief; its purpose is not sustained mentorship but example-setting. 

“They see us with our white coat and our stethoscope, and they’re like, ‘Wow, she looks like me.’ Or, ‘Wow, she speaks Spanish like me,’” Alicia Segovia, a second-year medical student, told the Report. 

She wonders if her own path would’ve been more linear had she experienced a program like Mini-Medical School. Medicine intrigued her early, but she didn’t know how to get involved. In college, she studied nursing, thinking she needed to be a nurse before she could become a doctor. An anesthesiologist she shadowed corrected her. 

Now, Segovia hopes to become an anesthesiologist herself. She tries to provide for others the mentorship and modeling she wished she’d had growing up.

The work bears fruit. At a recent Mini-Medical School, a little girl hugged her and said, “I wanna be like you.”

Editor’s note: This story was updated Nov. 3 to mention that the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine is part of The University of North Texas Health Science Center.

Alexis Allison is the health reporter at the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from Texas Health Resources. Contact her at alexis.allison@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Alexis AllisonHealth Reporter

Alexis Allison covers health for the Fort Worth Report. When she can, she'll slip in an illustration or two. Allison is a former high school English teacher and hopes her journalism is likewise educational....