I had the wonderful opportunity yesterday to serve as a mentor for the Council on Clinical Cardiology’s High School Minority Outreach Program. Bigger and better than ever, this program is now in its fourth year, with participation by more than 100 students from eight local schools in the Orlando area. The organizers worked hard to provide a stimulating experience for the students, with the hope of getting them excited about medicine and science—for if these students will not be the ones safeguarding the health of our communities in the future, then who else will?
Along with a welcome address by Dr. Mark Creager in his capacity as President of the American Heart Association, there was a panel of speakers representing various professions in medicine and science, as well as more informal round-table discussions led by the mentors with their groups of students. One of the highlights of the Program was the talk by the lunch speaker, Dr. Eldrin Lewis, who shared his inspiring life story of how he found his way to a career in medicine and science. Among the critical lessons he shared (and which I paraphrase): You should not worry about being the best, but rather you should strive to be your best and know that you did all you could, regardless of how much you succeeded or failed. Don’t let others’ discouragement hold you back from pursuing your goals; walk away and find people who love and support you. You should not fear to aim for the stars, because even if you don’t reach the stars, you’ll still soar.
It’s hard to know how much of these lessons the students in the room took to heart, but I do know this: these lessons are surely just as relevant to early career clinicians and scientists like me as they are to young high school students. I couldn’t help but be inspired myself.
We had the chance to take the students around the convention center so that they could get a sense of what happens at a meeting of thousands of people who share the American Heart Association’s mission of “building healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.” All of the students went through CPR training and received kits to take home with them so that they can teach their families how to do CPR. We also took the students around the poster areas. While the technical jargon in the posters was an obstacle, I did my best to communicate the essence of each study to the students, and I deliberately showed them a wide variety of different studies—epidemiology, outcomes studies, basic science, and clinical trials. Even though they couldn’t have understood the details, I do think they got the message that there are many different ways to contribute to the AHA mission, and that they are all important, and that we will need these students to take up the mantle and serve in all of these different ways, whether as scientists, nurses, doctors, pharmacists, counselors, or educators.
All in all, the students were engaged and excited, and it was a great afternoon and probably the highlight of Scientific Sessions for me. I hope that at least a few of the students will look back years from now and recall the afternoon as a highlight of their high school years, one that helped put them on the path to careers in medicine and science and carrying on the mission long after I’m gone.
Kiran Musunuru, MD PhD MPH FAHA
Kiran Musunuru is a harried but hopeful physician-scientist-teacher living the dream at Harvard University and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. He volunteers extensively for the Council on Functional Genomics and Translational Biology and the Council on Clinical Cardiology