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Teens get up close look at surgeries during hospital camp

ORLANDO, Fla. (MCT) — Urologist Vipul Patel emerged from the operating room with the bloody ping-pong-ball-size object wrapped in a paper towel. He squished it from the sides.

"This is where the cancer is," he told the students. "You have to study for 20 years before you can try this."

The observers were 14 teenagers with an interest in medicine, participating in one of Florida Hospital's one-day camps for aspiring young doctors.

If the teens were fazed by the doctor's demonstration, they didn't show it.

"I couldn't take my eyes off it. It was mesmerizing. It was weird," said Tracy Cleary, a 14-year-old who attends Lake Nona High School. "I'm into the gore."

MeD. Camp, as the six-hour event is dubbed, was the brainchild of the hospital's public-relations arm. It's the hospital's attempt at grabbing some of the "medical city" buzz, even if it doesn't have a spot on the "medical city" campus.

"In Orlando, we're writing history in a sense in that we're becoming a hub for medicine," said Samantha O'Lenick, media-relations executive director for Florida Hospital. "And I thought, wouldn't it be great if we could encourage young people to go into medicine and research?"

For $50 to $75, the teens get medical scrubs, lunch, a chance to watch surgeries, play with patient simulators and tour the labs at Burnham Institute for Medical Research in Lake Nona, Fla., where not even local media have been allowed past the lobby.

The hospital had its first camp last week at its Orlando location. So far, it has raised $1,400 for the Florida Hospital Foundation.

Even though the tours and surgeries weren't anything she hadn't seen on the Discovery Channel or "House," Tracy said it was money well spent.

"When I put on the scrubs this morning, my mom said, 'It's a blast from the future,'" she said.

Clarice Owen, a 13-year-old from Timber Creek High School who met Tracy at the first camp, said she has been interested in becoming a medical researcher since she won a science fair two years ago. Watching the surgery in real time and not on an edited TV show was rewarding, but it was being among like-minded peers that excited her most.

"It was worth $75 being able to spend time with kids that have the same interests as me, because at my school people are interested in science but not as much," she said. "I'm a serious science junkie."

In that sense, she got her money's worth. Not only were most of the teens at both camps interested in science, they were also girls. Both Clarice and Tracy said they expected to be in the minority and were surprised to see so few guys.

Other than nursing, health professions have long been dominated by men. But this is changing — although in 1980-81, only 26.5 percent of medical students were women, by 2006 that number had increased to nearly 49 percent, according to the Department of Health and Human Services' 2008 Women's Health USA data book.

Tracy says positive role models have stoked her ambitions in science.

"My grandma was an RN (registered nurse), and she said it was really awesome changing lives," she said. "I also want to change lives, and doctor is the highest I can shoot for."

The few guys in the camp looked as spooked as if they'd walked into a Jonas Brothers concert by mistake.

"I thought it would be the other way around," said Kirk McCall, a 15-year-old from Timber Creek High School. "From what I've noticed, guys are usually more interested in surgeries."

O'Lenick said these first two camps were test programs to see how much interest there would be from the community. The next camp, Aug. 13, is already fully booked. Demand has been so high, hospital officials anticipate doing more during the holidays in December or spring break, and possibly expanding the camp to several days.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.