More than 240 central Iowa girls in grades 4-7 gathered on the Des Moines University campus March 24 to gain hands-on experiences in topics ranging from anatomy and first aid to surgery, research, nutrition and neuroscience.
“The whole premise of today is to give girls like you exposure to medicine and the health sciences,” said DMU President Angela Walker Franklin, Ph.D., said to the assembled girls, holding her 18-month-old granddaughter Harper. “This is also my opportunity to expose my granddaughter to all of you.”
Girls Exploring Medicine and Science, or GEMS, is a free annual event at DMU designed to inspire participants to pursue education and careers in medicine, health and science. This year, the girls were organized in anatomically named groups and then rotated to stations on campus. Led by DMU students, they experienced scrubbing into a sterile unit in the surgery lab; learned about nutrition and made smoothies by pedaling DMU’s smoothie bike; explored the body with ultrasound; learned how to tape ankles; handled real human organs; participated in balance activities; peered through microscopes; made castings of their feet and their own lip moisturizers; and interacted with medical mannequins, among other activities.
“Ever since I was little, I wanted to go into medicine in part because of the positive influences I had growing up. But I know that not all girls have that,” says second-year osteopathic medical student Erin Traxler, whose mother is a nurse. Traxler is president of the University’s Women’s Medical Alliance, sponsor of the GEMS event.
A new component of this year’s GEMS was a focus on mental health and positive self-image. Second-year osteopathic medical student Nikki Shumway led an interactive lunch session on feeling safe, advising students to use the “BAR method” – breathe, acknowledge feelings and respond correctly – when dealing with adversity.
“I feel very strongly about empowering young women and girls and giving them coping skills for adversity,” she says. She praised the event organizers as well as Lisa Streyffeler, Ph.D., chair of behavioral medicine, and Marianka Pille, M.D., associate professor of specialty medicine, for helping her draft her comments. “I had a lot of help and support from faculty and staff, and the message came straight from the heart.”
View photos from the event below taken by Mary Traxler: