Healthcare Sparks inspires interest in STEM

Medical resident Danae Smart created a program to encourage minority students to pursue health careers.

Danae Smart
Danae Smart, second-year family medicine resident at the UNC School of Medicine, created Healthcare Sparks to inspire the next generation to consider professions in healthcare and related fields. (Courtesy of Healthcare Sparks)

Dr. Danae Smart noticed a disparity in many pre-college students鈥 access to fields related to health care and STEM early in her time in medical school at Loma Linda University in California.

In response, Smart, now a second-year resident at UNC Family Medicine, created at the end of her first year of medical school to encourage professionals in training to engage with middle and high school students. The goal is to spark their interest in medicine and related scientific fields.

鈥淚 believe there must be more diversity in healthcare,鈥 Smart said. 鈥淟ack of resources and lack of exposure to black and brown health care professionals are two barriers that inhibit minority students from pursuing health careers, barriers which Healthcare Sparks addresses.鈥

Smart began with an afterschool enrichment program in San Bernardino, California, supported by Loma Linda University鈥檚 Healthy Neighborhood Project. Many of the children participating had parents who were incarcerated. Medical students led interactive sessions that reinforced concepts of basic anatomy and physiology with educational games, using a health care booklet that Smart has now published.

Starting her residency at UNC Family Medicine, Smart hoped to expand the program to more institutions, noting the positive feedback from students.

鈥淚 conducted a survey at the U.S. Dream Academy in San Bernadino, and all of the respondents reported learning more about science and being more interested in health careers since starting Healthcare Sparks,鈥 Smart said. 鈥淔eedback at Culbreth Middle School in Chapel Hill was similar, with students noting the session was better than they expected, and that they didn鈥檛 know a science lesson would be so enjoyable.鈥

Healthcare Sparks has now made its book and video resources . Smart鈥檚 goal is to have more professionals in training who can lead the learning sessions.

鈥淯ltimately, I hope Healthcare Sparks inspires students to pursue health careers and creates mentorship opportunities for volunteers who decide to start the program at their institutions,鈥 Smart said. 鈥淚 want students to see providers who look like them and to know they can achieve whatever goals they aspire to.鈥

To learn more about the program, 鈥 and visit 鈥.