Educational Opportunity or Con Job?
March 30, 2008 12:34 PM   Subscribe

Educational Opportunity or Con Job?

I happen to be the father of a focused 15-year-old daughter who wants to pursue a career in medicine. We're trying to figure out how to expose her to the field so she can eventually make a clear-headed decision. Understand, this is her driving the bus. I think it's a little early to be worrying about career paths but like I said, she's focused and intent.

That being said, we've recently been flooded with mail for three different student conferences. She would go somewhere, near or at a college, and be exposed to the medical field for a week or so this summer. The only thing is, my wife and I can't figure out if any of these is a legitimate educational experience or just a way for these groups to flatter kids and parents and make some money off of them. The three are:

The Congressional Student Leadership Congress
The National Youth Leadership Forum
The National Youth Leadership Conference.

Anybody have any experience with any of these? Can you shed some light for us? I'm all for sending her for a week of brushing up against the medical profession as long as I know these people are legitimate. I'm not about to ship her off for a week becase someone sent us a foil-stamped packet to "select" students. Extra points for other suggestions on how she can see if being a doctor is the thing for her.

Mighty hive mind, please help.
posted by lpsguy to Education (16 answers total)
i don't know anything about those, but why not let her volunteer to go on a trip with operation smile? they go out to 3rd world countries and fix cleft lips. they take high school and college students with them to help out in nonsurgical ways (but they are present for the surgery). my cousin went twice and even though she never became a doctor, she thought it was a great experience.
posted by thinkingwoman at 12:50 PM on March 30, 2008

At her age, I think it might be better to arrange some sort of volunteer experience - either something abroad like thinkingwoman mentioned (I had friends who did similar programs and got a lot out of them, or else something closer to home. Perhaps volunteering at a local hospital? Mind you, any volunteer experience for a 15-year-old is going to cost the parents a nice sum of money, but I'd think it'd be a much more valuable experience than going to some conference. And volunteering would give her a better idea of what doctors actually DO.
posted by lunasol at 1:00 PM on March 30, 2008

Some people with first-hand experience of the Congressional Student Leadership Conference, run by LeadAmerica, call it a scam. Here's one (scroll down to the comments).

I think your daughter might get more benefit from a well-established summer program at a good university, rather than these questionable, cash-cow "leadership" seminars.
posted by jayder at 1:03 PM on March 30, 2008

First of all, your daughter's not too early to start preparing for her medical career. I'd say she's right on the money. It takes a considerable amount of dedication to become a good doc and most of the good docs I've known started thinking about it seriously in their teenage years.

Secondly, I don't think you need to pay for some kind of tin-plated week long experience. I think candystriping in a local hospital for a year, or shadowing a local physician in his office for a month, would be things that would be a lot more germane to what being a doc is about than some kind of conference.

Thirdly, if her grades and study habits are not already top-of-the-class quality, forget the rest and focus on making that happen. Good habits developed now will serve her well through the next 14 years or so of studying (and test-taking, and resumé-submitting) that she'll need to do to achieve her eventual medical A game.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:14 PM on March 30, 2008

When I was a kid (16-17ish) I spent a few days (3?) at a local university during the holidays. They put is in dorm rooms, we took lectures, that kind of thing. Looking back, as a "this is what university will be like" taster it was pretty accurate, and I got introduced to chaos, topology and a couple of other neat concepts that we didn't touch at my level. The scheme was run by the university, who then approached schools to find interested students, and the payment was just a token to cover the cost of the dorm room.

So I'd say these schemes can be valuable, but as soon as there's a private company in the loop I'd get very wary. Ask yourself... if it's such a great educational experience, why aren't they promoting by building relationships with teachers?
posted by Leon at 1:23 PM on March 30, 2008

When I was that age, I was able to get a volunteer job for the summer at the local veteran's hospital. There was an active program for volunteers there. I ended up being assigned to work in the pharmacy, which was a lot of fun.
posted by Class Goat at 1:46 PM on March 30, 2008

If you do want a legit summer program, you should look into the Center for Talented Youth. They have one course on Pharmacology and Toxicology this year that she might be interested in. Having taken CTY courses as a kid, I can vouch for it being a pretty fantastic experience.
posted by MsMolly at 1:47 PM on March 30, 2008

It would help to know what state you're in. Virginia offers a summer residential governor's school program in Life Sciences and Medicine. Every state manages their governor's school programs differently, but those programs are definitely legit and look great on college applications. For governor's school or other programs, your daughter's guidance office should be a resource for recommendations.

As a student worker in college, I collated incoming application materials for a very competitive pre-med program. FWIW, almost all of the applicants either volunteered at their local hospital and/or trained and worked as EMT's in high school.
posted by junkbox at 3:47 PM on March 30, 2008

Our local high school has a career shadowing program where students spend time in the workplace with professionals. I know several who followed doctors around. Perhaps you could investigate and see whether her school has something similar.

As for those "Leadership" groups...I'm pretty sure most of those tend to be junior political organizations. Make of that what you will. My daughter got mailings from them. They were tossed.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:59 PM on March 30, 2008

Go for something closer to her interests. Is she interested more in clinical stuff? She can be a candystriper at a local clinic. Does clinical research sound more interesting? Look for local programs with universities/clinics (I took one at CWRU, for example), or look for national programs (I attended the Research Science Institute, which was incredible - and free - though CTY and similar programs are obviously also pretty good.) Based on friends who went, my impression of such leadership programs was that they were useful for meeting other smart kids, but not much else. Programs at local universities will offer specific classes, at the very least, and research-focused programs like RSI can offer even more. Some states also have Governor-sponsored programs that are similar. Furthermore, these programs are longer: a week is nowhere near enough to learn anything about the medical field, clinical or research. Most of these programs are between one and two months. I got a lot of those "leadership" mailings, read them, and tossed them; they weren't as good as the real thing.

I found it very inspiring to get to spend time with other motivated students heading into the sciences. Sure, we all hung out with each other, but we were all also incredibly interested in learning more about science. A rare thing in high school! General leadership programs are not apt to expose her to as many students that share her interests, let alone the medical field in general. And really, for a student who is focused and intent, and who actually wants to learn about her field, you want something more specific.
posted by ubersturm at 4:32 PM on March 30, 2008

You might check Google to see if there's a Medical Explorers post in your community. It would involve regular meetings during the school year with other high schoolers interested in medicine, with presentations by medical personnel and field trips to hospitals and such. The cost is minimal.
posted by PatoPata at 6:06 PM on March 30, 2008

I went to the National Youth Leadership Forum on Law when I was about 16. I'm currently about halfway through law school. However, I'm not sure that there is a strong causal link between the two.

Some activities that I can remember:
- Skills seminars
- Assigned readings and group discussions (I know we had twice daily small-group sessions, but I really can't remember what we talked about)
- Observation of a criminal trial
- Mock class at Georgetown Law
- Mock trial competition
- Q&A sessions with attorneys from a variety of fields
- Q&A session with some hotshot lobbyist
- Visits to the Supreme Court, Congress, etc. (We were in D.C.)
- Dinner/dance

Since they only have one week to get a bunch of teenagers excited about the profession, there was a lot of generalization and a bit of a rah-rah glamor vibe. In spite of that, it did encourage me to seek out legal internships in college -- internships which were key in my career decision, because they allowed me to see what lawyers actually "do" on a daily basis.

Bottom line: It was fun. It was educational. I'd do it again. I'd send my kid, but keep in mind that a later internship or part-time job could provide deeper insight into the field.
posted by the littlest brussels sprout at 6:57 PM on March 30, 2008

I did this one: National Youth Leadership Conference, 10 years ago, and it was geared towards national policy and diplomacy, getting kids excited about the federal political process.

Unless things have changed in the past 10 years I'd say it's legit, but the focus of the conference doesn't seem to match what your daughter is looking for.
posted by pcward at 8:09 PM on March 30, 2008

Three of my friends are in the med-school application process right now. What I have learned from them is that grades and MCATs are the most important. Make sure that she has the grades to get into the best possible university. If she is not in the top % of her class - spend the money on a tutor. Otherwise, she should volunteer locally (weekly - monthly) at a hospital or care home as a long term commitment looks much better than a one week experience. If she has the time and you have the money, look into a volunteer program where she gets to travel and help others. This will give her great material to draw on during all those university interviews! Skip those "leadership" things, if the only admitance requirement is an application fee, it's a scam!
posted by saradarlin at 12:02 AM on March 31, 2008

I remember well getting the same letters in the mail as an upcoming high school student, and thought that I was selected out of thousands to receive such an honor. I brought it up with my guidance counselor once, and he told me that they're mailed out for a reason--to make cash. Like your daughter, I had an idea of what I might want to do in the future early, and figured I should pad my resume with anything that looked good. Turns out, you can play to both interests.

I would seriously recommend talking with a guidance counselor (or some equivalent in the high school administration) about programs that might be more aimed at young engineer/doctor/lawyer/scientist/etc. From personal experience, I can say that I quickly joined the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science (PJAS), where students do a real research project and present the results to judges on regional and state levels. Not sure what state you're in, but there's all sorts of opportunities like this one out there.

The key is that (at least in my experience) my guidance counselor had the resources to know if a program was legitimate--he was around a long time and had been receiving the same fliers for decades. Ditto for my biology and chemistry teachers.

Finally, I'd like to advise against starting the premed-student pressure to perform that some have suggested at the age of 15. I think you (and your daughter) will really regret it if you decide to clamp down on getting A+'s in AP Biology at the expense of thinking about other career paths. Not that she'd need to be a member of every single "future _____(career)" group out there, but the programs exist for a reason: to try things out. It's easiest to experiment in high school, I've found, and less easy (but still possible) in college. Don't sell yourself short; if she's got an inkling to be a doctor, join a club (which probably will involve trips to hospitals/candystriping, which are an extension of what has been mentioned already). And if she has the slightest inkling to be a lawyer, engineer, scientist, or actor---well, there's clubs for those, too.

Speaking from experience (and not tooting my own horn, honest), I joined lots of clubs in high school, and I left lots of clubs, too. I ended going to an Ivy League university (majoring in science) and doing the same thing. As I'm about to graduate now, I think---think--I know what I'm going to be when I grow up. But I'll let you know after grad school.
posted by BenzeneChile at 8:35 AM on March 31, 2008

I was totally fascinated by all things science-y as a pre-teen and throughout high school. Although I ended up on a different path in college, I really enjoyed the Smith Summer Science and Engineering Program - a month-long program just for girls. It was sometimes tough as I got into higher-level science classes in high school to be one of just a couple girls, so it was a great experience to be surrounded by lots of other girls with similar abilities and interests. If you can find something similar in your area, I'd highly recommend it based on my experience - not only is it great to "do" science in the field (for example - collecting salamanders for DNA samples), but the confidence-building was much needed when I went at your daughter's age.
posted by pants at 8:46 AM on March 31, 2008

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