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So, you want to be a doctor? Northern Baltimore County program teaches children about medicine, health

So, you want to be a doctor? Northern Baltimore County program teaches children about medicine, health
Prettyboy Elementary students, Kershnav Booth, 8, third grade; Emma Burton, 9, fourth grade; Kami Bandelin, 8, third grade; and Kaitlyn Ho, 7, second grade, take the Little Medical School oath before their recent graduation. (Nicole Munchel/For BSMG)

It’s late afternoon. Already, the small group of four students has put in a full day at school. But donning white lab coats, they remain alert and engaged as they review medical terminology with their instructor. Playing “medical” bingo for prizes of pencils, the students alternately scrunch their faces in concentration and shoot their hands into the air, calling out terms like “antiseptic” and “cervical spine” after their teacher provides the corresponding definition.

These Prettyboy Elementary students, ages 7 to 9, are preparing to graduate from the Little Medical School of Baltimore, an enrichment program that’s part of before- and after-school offerings at select area schools and local summer camps.

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Introduced to the Baltimore area this year by Hereford native Marion Beck, a seasoned nurse and business executive, the Little Medical School of Baltimore — already in six locations within just months of its launch here — is proving to be a popular addition to more traditional school enrichment programs.

Kaitlyn Ho, a second-grader at Prettyboy Elementary, looks like a pint-sized medical student in her white lab coat. She also appears to take the experience as seriously as an actual medical student, thoughtfully answering questions the instructor poses on topics as disparate as prescription usage and functions of the spine.

But she’s quick to share her favorite lesson in the six-week course in true 7-year-old fashion: “Slime. I liked making slime,” she said, of the hands-on activity that accompanied a lesson on the role of mucus production.

Kaitlyn’s mother, Kim Ho, is a fan of the course, too. “It’s a good program for any kid to take. They do new activities every week, bring home things, and the instructor really takes the medical terminology down to their level,” said Ho, who added that she’s already planning on registering Kaitlyn for another session.

That’s good news for franchise owner Beck, who launched the Little Medical School of Baltimore in the summer of 2018 after careful deliberation. “I was looking for more fulfillment in a job, and thinking about leaving a legacy,” she said.

The youngest of 12 children, Beck, 45, had recently begun to reflect on her father’s long (35 years) and satisfying career as a local teacher, at schools including Sparks Elementary and Hereford Middle School. Although she has no children of her own, Beck, who enjoys working with kids, calls herself “the fun aunt” to her 34 nieces and nephews.

Beck’s extensive blend of nursing and business experience also prepared her for her new professional venture. She’s lived around the country as a traveling nurse; worked as a legal nurse consultant; earned an MBA; been employed in private industry with insurance companies; and held various positions for the federal government, including one with the Justice Prisoner Alien Transport System, or JPATS, known as the largest prison transport network in the world.

Ready for a change, she considered her options, thoroughly researched the Little Medical School—recently ranked by Entrepreneur magazine on its top New Franchises list—and decided to take the plunge.

Since launching the Little Medical School of Baltimore, Beck has begun running the program as a before- and after-school offering in four Baltimore County schools (besides at Prettyboy Elementary in Freeland, it’s in Sparks Elementary, Fifth District Elementary in Upperco and Seventh District Elementary in Parkton); one independent school (Roland Park Country School); and at the St. Francis Neighborhood Center, a nonprofit bringing enrichment services free of charge through grants and corporate sponsorships to children and adults in the Reservoir Hill neighborhood of Baltimore City. This summer, it also will be offered as a summer camp at several area locations.

Beck credits the program’s strong start in the Baltimore area to the natural void it’s filling among children’s enrichment offerings. “What kid hasn’t said: ‘I want to be a doctor or nurse when I grow up?’” Beck said.

Now, in addition to traditional after-school and summer camp programs like sports and STEM-related robotics and coding activities, area students can explore the field of medicine and its close cousin, veterinary medicine, via the Little Medical School. Already, an estimated 125 area students have experienced the six-week program, which costs between $150 and $180, depending on the venue and the supplies required.

Each of the courses broadens students’ perspectives on possible health care career options and exposes them to general science-based skills and information.

For instance, students who take the core medical course learn how to use a blood pressure cuff, what a stethoscope measures, basic CPR and first aid, medical terminology, and more.

“If they walk away with some improved knowledge of health and wellness, and a better understanding of how their bodies work, I think that’s a good result,” Beck said.

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Program origins

Mary Mason likely would agree. In 1998, then a chief medical resident in internal medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, Mason began to reflect on her childhood, in which she was inspired to become a doctor by her own mother, a physician who would bring home tongue depressors, gauze bandages and other items from her office to add to her daughter’s play “doctor kit.”

Today, Dr. Mason’s Little Medical School boasts more than 45 franchises, based domestically and internationally, in 17 states in the U.S. and seven countries.

A Little Medical School franchise costs less than $100,000 to purchase and is available to any professional interested in inspiring children to learn about health care careers.

Classes cater to children ages 4 to 14, with a special medical course for teens. The program designs courses with input from both a health professional and a curriculum developer who has experience teaching elementary and middle school. Together, they aim to create programs that are hands-on, age-appropriate, practical and fun.

Engaged instructors like Bahareh Jabbari, who teaches the after-school course to students at Prettyboy and Sparks, help bring the carefully developed curriculum to life. On her own path to becoming a doctor, Jabbari is applying to medical school after having recently earned her bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins. Her personal interest in medicine and prior experience tutoring children make her a natural fit for the part-time position.

Towson resident Jabbari says she adores the children’s curiosity and is impressed with their insightful questions. She does admit that, because it’s an after-school program, the students don’t always enter the classroom ready to learn more. “Sometimes we get sidetracked and they tell me their life stories,” she said with a laugh. But eventually, she manages to bring them back to the task at hand.

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One December afternoon, that task involved four students in the Little Medical School program standing in a line, wearing their white lab coats, and placing their right hands over their hearts to recite the Little Medical School oath — like the Hippocratic oath with a twist, with verses that include: “I made a bone firsthand, And I can say the levels of the spine in a jam.” It’s part of the students’ graduation ceremony from the course.

When it ends, the children’s parents snap photos and clap. Beck, who attends the ceremony, always encourages the parents to take pictures. “It might be a flashback photo one day when their child graduates from [real] medical school,” she noted.

But for now, the future of these young students remains uncertain. Asked if she wants to be a doctor when she grows up, young Kaitlyn shyly looks down at the floor and shrugs. She is, after all, only in second grade.

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