Medical student inspired by Camp Cardiac now guiding teens: ‘It feels very meant to be’
By Diane Smith
In 2014, Rupali Gautam posed for a photo in front of the University of North Texas Health Science Center sign that overlooks Camp Bowie Boulevard – it’s an image that in retrospect predicted the medical student’s future.
“It feels very meant to be,” said Gautam of the picture that now hangs in her parent’s Plano home.
At the time, Gautam had recently graduated from Plano Senior High School and was headed to Purdue University for undergraduate studies. Before leaving to Indiana, Gautam participated in Camp Cardiac, a national health professions camp offered at the UNT Health Science Center for students in grades nine through 12.
Teens interested in health professions – such as doctors, nurses, physician assistants or pharmacists – attended a week of Camp Cardiac sessions on the Fort Worth campus.
“It solidified why I wanted to go into medicine and become a doctor,” said Gautam, a second year student at Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine. “It was led by second year medical students, and it was not only a lot of fun, but a great learning opportunity for me.”
Gautam participated in hands on activities centered on patient care – from CPR to taking patient medical histories. She connected with TCOM medical students who inspired her.
“They were so kind,” she said. “I looked up to them and I just wanted to be them when I grew up.”
Last summer, Gautam retuned to Camp Cardiac in a new role. This time, she served as a mentor to teens as chair of UNTHSC’s Camp Cardiac.
“The whole week was very nostalgic for me,” she said. “I remember being those students.”
Michael Smith, PhD and professor in the Department of Anatomy & Physiology, is the faculty sponsor for Camp Cardiac.
“I have been consistently impressed with our students’ knowledge, communication skills and infectious enthusiasm for medicine and education,” he said. “Our students are outstanding champions for the medical career path and particularly for our institution.”
The national Camp Cardiac program was founded in 2010 by Dr. Richard Lee, a cardiac surgeon.
Last summer, Camp Cardiac programs were held at university campuses across the country, including UNTHSC, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, Ark. and University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson, Ariz.
The application process includes essays and an explanation by applicants detailing why they want to participate and what they hope to gain from the experience. There are also scholarships teens can seek to help with costs.
Gautam said the week-long program in Fort Worth, which was open to students across Texas, included panel discussions and touched on various healthcare themes, including an explanation of osteopathic medicine.
The 2019 camp offered opportunities to do things that high school students don’t get a chance to do – suturing, taking blood pressure, reviewing EKGs and observing simulation cases in the simulation lab. It also allowed participants to interact with medical students, Gautam said.
“It is an incredible opportunity. It’s something that a lot of kids don’t get the chance to experience – learning firsthand from medical students,” Gautam said, adding that students wrote them sweet Thank You cards after the camp.
“When I was in high school, I never imagined myself in this position,” she said. “It was just a cool opportunity and I was excited about the chance – to maybe go to medical school one day – and now I’m here.”