Yet, something about the medical setting appealed to her
"I found comfort being there and always wanted to study it and know more," Acosta said. "I was the annoying kid bothering the doctor with a bunch of questions during checkups."
The 20-year-old, a rising third-year biomedical sciences student at Whittier College whose ambition is to become a nurse and improve public health in underserved communities, was one of more than 200 middle school, high school and college students enrolled in a trio of virtual summer programs organized by Cedars-Sinai.
More than 60 medical professionals and faculty members volunteered their time and shared their expertise with young community members like Acosta during sessions designed to inspire future healthcare professionals.
"We look at is as a way to build not only future generations of healthcare professionals but also future generations of Cedars-Sinai professionals," said Torie Gonsalves, manager of the Cedars-Sinai Research Internship Programs, which were held over Zoom from July 12-July 30.
Acosta, who learned about the internship from her academic advisor at Whittier, participated in discussions on increasing diversity, equity and inclusion in healthcare, among other topics.
Cedars-Sinai staff members shared their journeys into healthcare and discussed disparities among neighboring communities, while highlighting career options in medicine. The participants included Lali Medina-Kauwe, PhD, professor of Biomedical Sciences; Arthur Cho, MD, professor of Pediatrics; and Shlee Song, MD, associate professor of Neurology.
During previous summers, Cedars-Sinai has organized in-person internship opportunities for students under its Research Internship Programs. Those programs include Minors in Research, which pairs high school juniors, ages 16-18, with faculty members as mentors in biomedical research, and the Biomedical Education Pipeline Initiative (BEPI), a paid research internship providing underrepresented college undergraduates from diverse backgrounds with an opportunity to develop basic research skills in advance of graduate school.
This year, the programs pivoted to virtual programming because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This transition allowed for a greater number of students from a larger geographical area to participate, Gonsalves said.
"It was important to our team that we were still able to provide opportunities for students to learn about healthcare, medicine and research, and connect with Cedars-Sinai since so many programs were cancelled as a result of the pandemic," she said. "Students for the past year have been left behind in so many ways. We’re excited to have this opportunity to connect with people and have them hear about the work at Cedars-Sinai."
The topics of the weeklong programs were "Introduction to Healthcare and Medicine," "Deep Dive into Research" and "Future of Medicine: Building a Pipeline of Diverse Healthcare Professionals."
During the first week, social workers, dieticians, oncologists and researchers led discussions providing an overview of healthcare. Jeffrey Golden, MD, vice dean of Research and Graduate Education and director of the Burns and Allen Research Institute at Cedars-Sinai, delivered a presentation to high school and middle school students called "Why You (I) Want to be a Pathologist."
In an interview, Golden, professor of Pathology, said he was surprised by the level of understanding the students demonstrated about the responsibilities of a pathologist.
"These kids are really engaged, interested, and that to me is the exciting and fun part," Golden said. "They asked a lot of questions and gave a lot of comments."
The second week, organized in partnership with the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute, drew high school and college-aged students who learned about research, career paths and best practices.
In the final week, students from underrepresented groups in medicine, healthcare and research examined health equity, mentorship and the experiences of those working in these spaces. Speakers included Denise Gallagher, program manager in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Addressing more than 30 undergraduate students, Gallagher discussed opportunities for healthcare jobs focused on increasing diversity and inclusion.
Cho’s presentation during the final week spotlighted the Cedars-Sinai program COACH for Kids, which provides comprehensive care to underserved communities through mobile medical units. Acosta said the topic resonated with her desire to bring care to communities in need.
"He kept us very engaged," Acosta said. "I loved his presentation."
Karla Mae Baronia, 23, who will be graduating from Arizona State University in December with a dual degree in biological science and global health, participated in the second and third week of programs. Baronia, who has been planning to pursue a pre-med program and a career in dermatology, said the sessions opened her eyes to many other opportunities.
"I really enjoyed it because I didn’t know there were a lot of other careers in healthcare, and it is making me reconsider the path I want to go on now," she said. "I’m happy I got the opportunity to do this program."