Skip to main content

Uplifting their future colleagues

Project MED continues to grow its mentorship efforts for local high schoolers who seek a future in health care
Project MED
Five of the Project MED founders at the ThinkChicago IMPACT competition. The student organization focuses on educating and preparing Chicago-area high schoolers for careers in health care, particularly those from underserved communities.

Mentorship was instrumental in getting Rishi Jain ’23 to where he is today, as a first-year medical student at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“My ability to apply to a program like Northwestern’s and the knowledge early on that I wanted to pursue something like health care came from having a great support system,” Jain said.

Jain remembers the dedication of his high school mentor, who, on top of a demanding Ph.D. program and a role as the school’s cross-country coach, always made time for tutoring him and other STEM students.

“His enthusiasm and motivation have stuck with me,” Jain said. “For him, being a good mentor not only meant career advice, but being a friend, someone to fall back on in terms of any challenges in life.”

Not long after Jain arrived at Northwestern as an undergraduate, Irene Quan ’23, approached him and several of his classmates with an idea: They could be part of the support system for others hoping to embark on careers in health care.

In 2021, the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences students founded the student organization Project MED (Medicine, Exposure, Development). Spearheaded by Quan, the student organization focuses on educating and preparing Chicago-area high schoolers for careers in health care, particularly those from underserved communities. This year, the organization has a new chapter at Feinberg.

“Those opportunities for me when I was a kid were extremely foundational, so being able to see that carry on to the people we serve now has been really great,” said Valentina Velasco ’23, a first-year student in Feinberg’s MD/MPH program who also co-founded Project MED.

Since its inception, Project MED has taken a three-pronged approach: learn, lead and launch. Learn comes in the form of the group’s events, such as speaker panels and workshops that teach students about health topics and professions. Recent events included a brain dissection with a corresponding neuroscience lesson and a physical therapy speaker panel.

Project MED’s second pillar, lead, covers the group’s near-peer mentorship program, which pairs Northwestern undergraduate students with local high schoolers who aspire to medical careers. Its third and final pillar, launch, comprises a database that connects students with more than 750 opportunities for research, volunteering or shadowing that can help them jumpstart their pre-professional careers.

A new chapter

Thanks to the Project MED founders who have moved on to Feinberg, the organization’s undergraduate chapter now has a complementary one at the medical school.

The newly minted medical students plan to use what they learn in class to create engaging lectures and small group discussions for Project MED students. Given Feinberg’s various degree programs, working with the medical school also offers a chance to expand students’ exposure to different health care careers — Project MED is currently partnering with students in Feinberg’s physician assistant program to offer high school students problem-based learning sessions.

On a logistical level, they hope the Feinberg chapter can streamline the process for Project MED activities involving the school and standardize programming so it can be made available to more area students.

The year of growth for Project MED doesn’t stop there. The organization now partners with six area high schools, and it’s even looking to launch chapters at other postsecondary institutions. Additionally, the undergraduate chapter recruited a record number of student mentors this year — 52 students looking to help the ones who will come after them.

“We have a lot of people that are really interested in passing down those lessons they’ve learned, especially if they relate to that experience of being in less well-resourced high schools and wanting to give back to their communities,” said Aru Singh, a fourth-year neuroscience student in Weinberg and one of Project MED’s founders, who currently leads the undergraduate chapter.

Paving the path for future health care professionals

For Quan, the effect Project MED’s work can have hit home when she helped chaperone one of Project MED’s first anatomy lab field trips at Feinberg. Now a first-year student in the medical school’s MD/MPH program, Quan still remembers seeing the joy on students’ faces as they left the lab.

“One student, she was talking to her friend and taking off her equipment, and she was saying, ‘This was the coolest thing ever. This is everything I’ve wanted to do,’” Quan said. “And I thought that was just a pure moment of happiness, excitement. Honestly, I felt that after the lab, too, so being able to see that in some of our students was super uplifting.”

Since 2021, the organization has coordinated dozens of workshops, presentations and speaker panels for more than 330 high school students. Its founders hope it continues to operate long after they’ve secured their own medical degrees.

“Even if it's one student, or just a dozen students, each of those individual success stories is very meaningful in itself,” Jain said. “You’re paving the path for students to do what they want to do, to join you in your field. That’s a very fulfilling feeling, that you’re uplifting your future colleagues, your peers and people who you want to see working right next to you one day.”