While teaching ninth-grade biology and biomedical science at the Instituto Health Sciences Career Academy in Chicago, Nicole Paprocki, OMS II, became inspired by students who demonstrated the potential to become doctors or nurses but lacked the mentors to help them achieve their dreams. Established in 2008, the charter high school situated on the Lower West Side of Chicago works to prepare inner-city youth for careers in health care.
Although she no longer teaches at the school, Paprocki will spend the next year introducing students at Instituto to the possibilities of exploring careers in medicine. At the same time, she will complete her own studies at the Midwestern University/Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine (MWU/CCOM) in Downers Grove, Illinois. Her work is supported by the Schweitzer Fellowship, which gives graduate students the opportunity to design and lead one-year community improvement projects.
With her former career paving the way for her project, Paprocki is now involving her peers at MWU/CCOM in her efforts to mentor underserved high school students.
Last year, she enlisted students in the MWU/CCOM Internal Medicine Club to teach clinical lessons at Instituto based on what the high school students were learning in science class. After speaking with the school’s graduating seniors about resources they wished had been available, Paprocki expanded the program, which is the focus of her fellowship, to include:
- Health lessons aligned to the high school’s science curriculum.
- A summer program focusing on health care careers and medical school.
- Ongoing mentoring from MWU/CCOM students via an after-school program launching this fall.
“I’ve seen how socioeconomic barriers can prevent students with so much potential from achieving their career goals,” says Paprocki.
A world of good
Paprocki is doing her former students a world of good by showing them how to pursue careers in health care, says Karen J. Nichols, DO, MWU/CCOM’s dean and Paprocki’s advisor.
“If students are the first in their family to complete high school, to go to college or to apply to medical school, they have no role models to show them the way. Nicole is serving as that role model,” she says.
Paprocki has an unparalleled drive to give back, notes Henrietta Barcelo, an administrator at Instituto.
“Even though she is no longer a teacher, Nicole is still teaching in a different way by giving inner-city children insights into the possibilities that exist for them in health care,” she says.