Jul 30, 2019 Healthcare Careers 101

High school students can find out what really makes a hospital tick, thanks to the Women Physicians' Mentoring Program.

students who participated in the 2019 Women Physicians’ Mentoring Program at Clara Maass Medical Center are pictured with leaders from the Belleville School District and from the medical centerObserving an echocardiogram. Watching a laceration get stitched. Poring over an X-ray. None of these are elements of a typical high school curriculum. But thanks to the Women Physicians’ Mentoring Program at Clara Maass Medical Center (CMMC), students at Belleville High School can learn firsthand what a health care career entails.

The program is the brainchild of Annette Cozzarelli, MD, an internal medicine physician at CMMC. “My dad was a physician in Belleville,” she explains, “and when he passed, we started a scholarship in his name. Looking at the applications for the scholarship each year, I saw how many students were interested in health and medical fields.”

That observation led to the idea of starting a mentoring program for these students, which Dr. Cozzarelli presented to the Women Physicians’ Committee at CMMC. The committee welcomed the idea, she says, as did the medical center. “Then we went to the high school administration in Belleville, and they thought it was a great idea, too,” she says.

A range of rotations
student Joshua Edmunds with Dr. Cozzarelli and a fellow student during the 2018 program

Designed for high school juniors, the program began in the 2017-18 school year. Each of the students was assigned to one of about a dozen women physician mentors. The program requires the doctors to spend time setting up the students’ rotations with the various departments in the hospital, making sure the students are where they should be for each rotation, and having a dialogue with them afterward about what they experienced.

“We rotate the students through different departments of the hospital so they get exposure to different aspects of medicine, and even to hospital administration,” explains Dr. Cozzarelli. “The students can do a community health rotation, or they can follow one of the finance people at the hospital, or they can spend time in different departments, like the obstetrics clinic or the emergency room.

“To make this work, we have to have cooperation from many different departments in the hospital. It’s become a joint effort with the medical staff, the nursing staff, the physical and cardiac therapists, the managers—in fact, all the employees.” Patients, too, must give permission before students can observe their care. “And I can tell you that everybody has said yes!” says Dr. Cozzarelli.

Horizons broadened
Connie Snelgrove, APN, and students with Joshua

The students, for their part, have to miss some regular high school classes to attend. “These are honors students,” says Dr. Cozzarelli. “They are committing to this time, and they know they can’t let their other subjects falter by doing this.” Fatimah el-Belkasi, 18, participated in the mentoring program this past year.

“My mentor was Dr. Dolly Razdan, a radiation oncologist, and my first rotation was in that department,” says el-Belkasi. “That was followed by emergency, genetic counseling and maternity. I didn’t know much about any of these, but after having these sessions I loved them all.” The mentoring program, says el-Belkasi, helped to confirm her interest in medicine, and also helped her to think outside of the few specialties, like pediatrics, that she’d been aware of previously.

What impressed el-Belkasi most? “It was the fact that all of the fields were so different, but every doctor had found their place and was happy where they were,” she says. “It looked like they were really trying to make a difference in the world, and I admire that.”

A new view 

When it’s time for these students to apply to college, they can get letters of recommendation from their mentors to help bolster their applications and show their interest in a health-related career. “Dr. Cozzarelli has done a really good job coming up with a clear vision and a clear program for these kids,” says Joe Lepo, Assistant Principal at Belleville High School.

“The teachers are positive about it, the students are positive about it, the doctors are positive about it.” “The students have thoroughly enjoyed it,” says Dr. Cozzarelli. “They see firsthand how physicians interact with patients, how the hospital interacts with patients, the responsibilities of nurses. They’re amazed by the human body and how it works.”

Learn more about student mentoring and volunteer programs, or call: 973.450.2150.