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This year, Penn’s annual Summer Mentorship Program (SMP) was different for a lot of reasons. First, and most obviously, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced the program into a virtual format. For this program, that meant going virtual using Zoom for daily programming, instead of the usual in-person, hands-on activities typically planned for the month-long professional development program for rising high school juniors. Second, this year, the School of Nursing (SON) Program was the largest it has ever been, with a total of 20 students from over 10 different Philadelphia high schools.

The Provost’s Office of the University of Pennsylvania has offered the SMP program for over a decade. The program seeks to connect local students from all sorts of financial and academic backgrounds with directed, mentored experiences within each of Penn’s professional schools. This year, the schools of Engineering, Dentistry, Nursing, and Law each participated in the program. Elizabeth Broden (SON doctoral candidate) coordinated the program this year under the direction of Helen Xu and Christina Costanzo. The goal of the 2020 virtual SMP program was to provide local Philadelphia high school students with exposure to the health care professions; including different health care roles, required training/education; and introductions to anatomy, physiology, and basic physical assessment. Students also had the opportunity to connect with local schools of nursing, nursing students, nursing school admissions counselors, and different health care providers.

Pivoting to a virtual format posed challenges for the typical SON programming; which usually includes opportunities to visit local hospitals and nursing schools, participate in a SON simulation, and engage in hands-on physical assessment activities. The program was also more interdisciplinary than in previous summers since the Medical School was not able to participate this year. The students’ career interests, therefore, ranged from nursing to medical school to even veterinary training. To best meet the program and individual student objectives, the coordinator planned a range of virtual programming. With the help of the SON simulation lab staff, especially Ann Hoyt-Brennan, the Junior high schoolers were able to engage in virtual simulation sessions. The coordinator also partnered with Penn’s Center for Resuscitation Science to develop a virtual CPR training course, and the students were each given a CPR training kit to use at home. The mentees were also able to participate in virtual information sessions with local nursing schools, and an interdisciplinary panel including health care workers from around the Philadelphia community. They learned the basics of anatomy, physiology, and physical assessment through a combination of synchronous and asynchronous lectures and assignments. The students also got the chance to dive deeper into the epidemiology, virology, and immunological implications of the virus that causes COVID-19 and discussed the different roles nurses are able to take on in inpatient settings, the community, and in policy and institutions.

The students presented a final slideshow showcasing all that they had learned; highlighting nurses’ varied roles in health systems and throughout the pandemic. Many students reflected on how much they had learned, a renewed appreciation for nurses and health care workers, and a newfound inspiration as to what they could achieve as aspiring college students.

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