MOULTRIE, Ga. — Sixteen 10th, 11th and 12th grade students from Cairo High School in Cairo and Colquitt County High School in Norman Park recently attended a week-long Opportunities Academy sponsored by the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and designed to familiarize them with healthcare careers.

According to Aisha DeBerry, PCOM’s director of diversity and community partnerships, “The Academy, held June 24 to 28, was intentional in reaching surrounding high school students for summer programming to expose them to both healthcare education and the healthcare industry.”

The first four days of the camp were held at the high school in Norman Park, while “graduation day” was held at PCOM South Georgia. PCOM South Georgia, a new, four-year medical campus in Moultrie, will welcome 55 first-year Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) students to classes on Aug. 12.

PCOM South Georgia Chief Academic Officer Michael J. Sampson, FAOASM, said, “The Opportunities Academy served as a pipeline program aimed at providing a spark to students in underserved communities encouraging their interest in medicine and sciences.”

With the week divided into segments on microbiology, neurology, cardiology, skeletal systems, muscles and primary care, students were taught by faculty members and staff from the Moultrie campus, as well as faculty and student mentors from PCOM Georgia in Suwanee. Guest faculty members also participated.

Ekuase Ogunbor, who graduated from PCOM Georgia in May with a master’s degree in biomedical sciences, served as the academy director. She said, “On behalf of the Opportunities Academy mentors, we are very proud of all of our high school students. We hope that they see the importance of coming back to serve their community as young professionals.”

She added, “We believe that the early exposure to healthcare from the Opportunities Academy will encourage the students to ignore the naysayers and accomplish their dreams.”

Academy attendees learned about such topics as handwashing techniques, the functions of the brain, the effect of recreational drugs on the brain, exercise and the heart, as well as concussions and sports. In addition, they took field trips to the Vereen Rehabilitation Center, which offers physical, occupational, speech and aquatic therapies and a wound care clinic; Turning Point Care Center; and Colquitt Regional Medical Center, all in Moultrie.

Co-Director Denise Kathy Onukwue (MS/Biomed ’20) said, “A nice, but welcome surprise was how instrumental the Moultrie community was in making sure the program was a success. Many vendors and small business owners helped us with last minute details and resources and we are extremely grateful.”

The graduation ceremony held at PCOM South Georgia featured greetings from Moultrie Mayor Bill McIntosh, Cairo Mayor Booker Gainor, and a keynote address by Linda Walden, MD, FAAFP.

Walden, who practices family medicine at the VA Clinic in Valdosta, is a recipient of the Distinguished Service Medallion Award from the Georgia State Medical Association given for her years of leadership, service, commitment and dedication.

She practiced family medicine in Cairo for 20 years and was the first black chief of staff at Grady General Hospital. Walden has received many other honors and awards, including being selected as the National Medical Association Physician of the Year, and being recognized as having the Most Outstanding Rural Practice in Georgia by the Georgia Rural Health Association. In addition, she has served on the Composite Board of Medical Examiners responsible for licensing physicians in Georgia.

DeBerry said, “The PCOM Offices of Diversity and Community Partnerships and Student Affairs have and will continue to be involved in the community to start partnerships early with a shared commitment to move the face of healthcare in a positive and accessible direction.”

Sampson said, “The students of the inaugural PCOM South Georgia Opportunities Academy class were energetic and showed incredible interest and potential.  I look forward to building more pipeline programs throughout South Georgia — from the region’s hometown medical school.”

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