NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Dreams Do Come True

Science Day at NIH Seeks to Empower Students

Day and Browne speak to a student
NLM’s Dr. Jeff Day (c) and his colleague Kristen Browne pique the interest of a student.

Photo:  Chia-Chi Charlie Chang

Dreams of becoming a doctor often remain only dreams for many students from disadvantaged communities. Generally, their schools may lack the academic enrichment programs and direct mentoring, which greatly benefit students from other backgrounds. However, Science Day seeks to inspire and prepare kids from diverse backgrounds to become health care and science professionals. 

This year marked the 4th year of the partnership between the National Library of Medicine, Friends of NLM and the non-profit organization Mentoring in Medicine (MIM). The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities also joined the endeavor this time.  

Nearly 500 middle and high school students—many of them African-American, Latino and Middle Eastern—participated in presentations about biomedical research career options, hands-on activities and Lunch with a Scientist at the Natcher Conference Center. Coincidentally, the 4th annual Science Day occurred during National Minority Health Month. 

While 40 percent of the current population belongs to racial and ethnic minorities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2014, only 5.5 percent of physicians and surgeons identified as African-American and only 6.3 percent as Latino. 

Betsy Humphreys, NLM deputy director, kicked off Science Day, sharing what she loves about her NIH career—which spans more than 40 years. She also introduced a welcome video message from NLM director Dr. Patricia Brennan. 

Throughout the day, students heard from a diverse group of institute directors and scientists who shared their journey to research. 

Eden explains a concept to a student
Dr. Hank Eden, NIBIB, explains the process of thermal imaging.

Photo:  Chia-Chi Charlie Chang

NIH principal deputy director Dr. Lawrence Tabak talked about his career path. “I submitted 29 applications to medical school! But I didn’t give up.” He explained how he sought mentorship opportunities along his route to becoming a scientist.  NIMHD director Dr. Eliseo Pérez-Stable (via video message) discussed his immigration from Cuba to the United States. “I did not learn English until the fourth grade,” he emphasized. “I worked and studied very hard.”

Dr. Lynne Holden, who co-founded MIM in 2006, is an emergency medicine physician who has been in practice nearly 20 years. She worked with NIH to plan the day and motivated students with remarks about her journey into medicine. 

During a panel discussion, Dr. Jeff Day showed students how they can turn their interest in medicine into a fantastic career in medical illustration. Students were in awe as Day, an informatics fellow and medical illustrator for NLM, projected moving images he created of an animated large intestine on the auditorium mega screen. 

Day was also an exhibitor at one of more than 20 activities tables. He and his colleague brought a huge digital pen computer, used for anatomical digital drawings. Students were able to see, first-hand, how these medical professionals, who are also artists, clearly communicate their message to broad audiences. 

Students wearing lab coats take a selfie
Students donned lab coats and posed for “cell-fies” at the exhibit table of Shelly Pollard, NIGMS.

Photo:  Rebecca Newton

Other exhibitors representing an array of institutes and centers allowed students to venture briefly into their world via various activities and demonstrations: health disparities Jeopardy, suture a banana, medical bingo, thermal imaging, CPR, 3-D printing, bioengineering, backyard brains, decoding messages to youth in smoking ads, transitioning from high school to medical school and many more.

A few institutes shared information about their enrichment programs for high school and undergraduate students who aspire to enter the medical field. Several components donated takeaway items such as pens, folders and pamphlets.

The day offered students plenty of encouragement and motivation to become science professionals, which will not only promote diversity in the biomedical workforce, but also turn these dreamers into confident scientists and practitioners. 

The NIH Record

The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

Published 25 times each year, it comes out on payday Fridays.

Assistant Editor: Eric Bock (link sends e-mail)

Staff Writer: Amber Snyder (link sends e-mail)