October 23, 2023

From labs to operating rooms: My SHPEP summer of healthcare exploration

Written by

Jada Williams smiling, sitting at dental lab tableMy name is Jada Williams, and I am a junior majoring in public health with minors in art studio and chemistry. This summer, I had the incredible opportunity to be an intern with the Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. This six-week program works in collaboration with the UAB Heersink School of Medicine and reshaped my ambitions in ways I could have never imagined.

SHPEP is a free summer program for sophomore and junior college students to explore their interests in medicine, dentistry, optometry, physical therapy, and other health professions. The program is hosted at 12 institutions across the United States and gives students the chance to develop healthcare skills, plan academic journeys, get clinical exposure, and network with a diverse array of healthcare professionals.

One of the most unique aspects of this summer was the sheer diversity of my daily experiences. Each day looked a little different—from field trips to conducting experiments in a lab to learning how to suture. SHPEP integrated lectures into the daily schedule, giving me a head start on relevant courses such as organic chemistry and physics. We also got advising from current UAB med school students and UAB med school alumni, and we heard from the UAB med school admissions panel.

Jada Williams in lab roomLearning hands-on clinical skills like suturing, phlebotomy, and catheterization gave me a newfound appreciation for the precision and care that goes into patient treatment (I learned I am a master at continuous suturing!). We got to use real surgical equipment, which felt surreal at times.

I also got to 'deliver a baby' in a simulation, conduct an ultrasound, and fill a cavity! We were under the instruction of physicians during these activities, which gave us an opportunity for questions and authenticity in our work. And, as a kinetic learner, I loved being able to gain knowledge through experiences.

One of my favorite lab activities was being able to deeply analyze a human brain in the UAB Department of Neurobiology. I identified parts of the human brain, interacted with it, and connected with neuroscientists. As an organ donor, I was inspired by those who donated their bodies to science to prepare future medical professionals. It was truly an experience I will never forget.

One of my most meaningful SHPEP experiences was when I got the opportunity to shadow physicians. I got to witness two surgeries conducted by Dr. Carlton Young, director of pancreas transplantation at UAB. I was less than two feet away from the procedure and watched the surgery unfold right under my nose in the operating room.

Jada Williams in lab protective clothingI also got to shadow Dr. Brian Sims, a neonatologist in the UAB Women and Infants Center. I can't think of a more influential way to fuel my love for medicine than the opportunity to be in the room where medical sciences and procedures are taking place. I am very grateful to have been under the guidance of two renowned physicians at UAB, and I still keep in touch with them today.

I also forged connections with many people involved with the program. The network of physicians, scientists, and pre-health advisors I met was instrumental in shaping my passion for a medical career. Their guidance and mentorship not only solidified my career aspirations but also instilled in me the importance of giving back and supporting future generations of healthcare professionals. I am also increasingly grateful for the incredible people I got to befriend in the program! I truly met some life-long friends during my time in SHPEP.

When I returned to campus this fall, I carried with me a sense of purpose and clarity that I owe to SHPEP. My academic pursuits and my involvement in the healthcare field have taken on new depth and meaning.

I am more committed than ever to making a meaningful impact in the world of medicine and public health. This summer was a transformative journey, and I am excited to see where this newfound passion and knowledge will lead me in the future!