Two Abilene High School students were afforded the opportunity to attend the Congress of Future Medical Leaders in Lowell, Mass.
Junior Calista Preston and senior Grace Allen attended the three-day conference with their science teacher, Molly Burton.
“I think it was really cool that we were given this opportunity,” Grace said. “When Mrs. Burton approached me about it, it was like holy cow. When I learned I got accepted, I was ecstatic.”
About 5,000 students from across the country attended. To be accepted, students had to be nominated and carry a high grade point average. Teachers could also nominate one of their students for a scholarship, which Calista received.
“Without the scholarship it may not have been possible for me to go, or at least it would have been much harder,” she said.
They were also appreciative of the school allowing Burton to go with them, because they both said their parents would not have been able to accompany them. While the program does have a system in place for students who are unaccompanied, neither of them thought their parents would have let them take advantage of it.
Both girls have dreams of entering the medical field but are looking at different directions. Grace is interested in pursuing a nursing career in pediatrics or obstetrics. Calista is more interested in pursing a neuroscience track.
“I just think the brain is really cool, how it controls everything,” she said.
She first discovered her interest when, as a freshman, she had an assignment to explore a career field. She had originally leaned toward becoming a neurologist.
“After researching that, I decided I wanted to be more on the research side of it rather than the doctor/patient side,” she said.
During the conference she heard from several specialists who spoke about various brain injuries, but found the discussion about concussions especially fascinating.
If Grace goes into nursing she will be the third generation of her family who followed that career path.
“I have been interested in the medical field since second grade,” she said. “My mom and grandmother were both nurses and I have some medical disabilities that exposed me to the medical field, which has caused me to be very interested in it.”
Grace lives with a brittle bone disease called Osteogenesis imperfecta. Because of her disability, she said she has gained a lot of knowledge about the pediatric side of the medical field.
After the conference she briefly had considered shifting her career path toward becoming a pediatric doctor, but has decided the nursing path is best for her.
While the girls are still on the same track they started out on, they both said the conference opened their eyes to the many different paths of medical science there are — some they had never even heard of before.
Calista found the speaker who talked about concussions the most interesting. For Grace, the most inspiring was a young lady who spoke about working with a doctor when she was 15 years old to help find a means of early detection for ovarian cancer.
Of all the speakers, they both found the opportunity to watch a live hip surgery exciting.
“They had the cameras on in the operating room,” Calista said. “The surgeon was able to talk to us and people could ask questions while the surgery was going on.”
The entire time wasn’t spent in the classrooms; there was a little time for them to see Boston.
Because of the risk of injury, Grace used her wheelchair most of the time they were there. She said she was “blown away” by how accessible the city is for people with disabilities, something she said she had not expected.
“Things people don’t think about can be a struggle or a frustration (for people with a disability),” she said.