Photo courtesy of Kids in Medicine
As a child, Joanie Block loved science and knew that she wanted to "help with health problems," but wasn't interested in being a nurse, physical therapist or teacher. "Those were the offerings for girls in my school," she says.
After earning degrees in physical therapy and cardiac rehabilitation and working in clinical cardiac research, Block co-founded the Seattle Science Foundation, a state-of-the-art medical education and training center for physicians. That was in 2006. Two years later, she started Kids in Medicine to provide similar experiences for children and to introduce them to the numerous career opportunities available to students excited about health sciences, but perhaps not interested in being a doctor or a nurse.
Kids in Medicine offers hands-on programs for children of all ages at its laboratories in downtown Seattle and through outreach programs statewide. Elementary-school students are exposed to different ways that science can help people live healthier lives. KIM tries to hook middle-school students with interactive projects where they do experiments and use scientific equipment they’ve likely only read about or seen on television. The program mentors high-school students interested in pursuing a career in the sciences. KIM has served 9,000 students since it launched.
Dr. Mark Reisman, president of the foundation’s board of directors and a top cardiologist at the University of Washington, believes the program can make math and science less intimidating through hands-on activities. “I think you look at every kid and there could be a world-famous violinist within their soul, or there could be a great doctor or great writer,” Reisman said. “And I think it’s critical, as an adult, to make sure that children get that exposure.”
All aspects of the program emphasize the fact that science can be creative, empowering students to ask their own questions and seek the answers. Through KIM, students can be their own CSI detectives as the lab is turned into a crime scene. The kids don rubber gloves and surgical gowns as they explore forensic science, anthropology, DNA and genetics in order to solve a crime. Partnering with the Seattle Science Foundation gives students access to the same sophisticated equipment used by researchers. In addition to Block and her staff, medical professionals and scientists from around the region often help out with the lessons, giving students a chance to interact with people who do science for a living.
Over the years, kids have responded enthusiastically to KIM’s programs.
In the ever-popular heart lesson, students as young as fourth grade dissect a real pig's heart. "I thought this field trip would be gross," wrote a student named Jaydn in a thank-you note to KIM. "But once I cut the heart it was extraordinary. I actually thought I was a surgeon!" The heart exercise also reinforces healthy living choices like exercise and good nutrition.
Kelson, a fourth-grade visitor, wrote: "I felt like an actual doctor because everybody took us seriously and trusted us with the tools."
A sixth-grade student came away from her experience primed to follow in Block's footsteps. "Being a surgeon is not for me,” she wrote to KIM staff, “but now I know I don't have to be a doctor to help health problems."
Kids in Medicine offers field trips, outreach programs and forensic-science summer camps, as well as online resources for home and classroom use, including games, books and songs, at kidsinmedicine.org.
Read more articles from the May 2015 print edition of Seattle's Child.