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Apollo — conceived by St. Elizabeth senior Sean Holly — gives insights into medical careers

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Sean Holly (left) and John Kepley. The Dialog/Mike Lang

WILMINGTON — Internships and shadowing programs are nothing new. It is unlikely, however, that many have been conceived, organized and implemented primarily by high school students. That is one of the unique aspects of Apollo: Youth in Medicine.

Last year, Sean Holly had a desire to see what it would be like to work in the medical field, and when he couldn’t find a way to do that, the St. Elizabeth High School senior went to work.

He talked with other students at the Delaware Youth Leadership Network, of which he is a member. Some of them had shadowing opportunities in fields they were interested in, but medicine was more restrictive.

“One of the things that I wanted to do was shadow some physicians. Also to volunteer. Just to get into the medical field and see what it was about,” he said.

So Holly spoke to Margaret O’Dwyer of the Youth Leadership Network and developed an idea to create such opportunities. He and O’Dwyer met with Shannan Beck, the director of counseling at St. Elizabeth. Over the summer, he connected with Dr. Randeep Kahlon, an orthopedic surgeon at First State Orthopaedics, and with Matt Thompson, president of the Medical Society of Delaware. They got feedback from medical professionals. A training session was developed. More students and professionals joined the effort, and Apollo: Youth in Medicine was born.

The program creates opportunities for students who otherwise have no connection to the medical world.

“That was our goal, to provide the networking for these students who don’t have it,” Holly said.

Four schools were included in the startup phase: St. Elizabeth, Newark Charter, Wilmington Charter and Conrad. Each interested student was given one shadowing slot for the fall, and they can get two in the spring if they are able to take the time off from school. More will be available over the summer. Word about Apollo has spread among various high schools.

“Our program is well known within the high school community from students that have already been in the program,” said John Kepley, a St. Elizabeth junior who came aboard early on. “I have friends from different schools that weren’t able to get to the program, which isn’t what we want. We want everybody to have the same opportunity, which is why Sean started this in the first place.”

Beck downplayed her role in the initiative. She said she has provided input about the process of vetting students and has facilitated communication with other school counselors. She plans to remain involved with it as long as she is able.

Kepley handles scheduling and communication. Each student must go through training in subjects such as the confidentiality of medical records, and they need to have a parental consent form on file as well.

Apollo will undergo some changes this summer, including one that will allow students from any school to apply. Kepley said they want the best, most-driven students to participate.

According to Kepley, finding interested doctors has not been a problem. Kahlon has worked with his contacts, and the feedback has been positive.

“The students don’t have enough time to fill all the slots that we’re getting. Getting enough doctors isn’t really an issue with us at this point in time,” he said.

Both Kepley and Holly have shadowed in the fall and this semester. Kepley spent a day at First State Orthopaedics with Jeremie Axe and another with Melissa Tribuiani, a family doctor based at St. Francis Hospital.

“What was interesting for me was the difference in something as simple as patient time. With Dr. Axe it was very quick. He was able to get a lot done very quickly,” he said. “But with family medicine, sometimes it takes longer. The doctor’s sitting with the patient much longer, there’s much more communication. It’s different types of injuries. It’s interesting to see the difference.”

All patients verbally consented to having him in the room. Kepley said he stood and watched, listened and took some notes.

Holly shadowed with Gaetano Pastore at Cardiology Associates and Prayus Tailor, a nephrologist.

“What I found the most interesting and rewarding aspect of the experience was just getting to talk to the doctors. Talk to them about why they enjoy going to their job, or why they find it interesting. Find out why it’s a fit or not a good fit,” he said.

Beck, the school counselor, said Apollo: Youth in Medicine is “probably the most ambitious student-designed and student-led initiative I have ever been honored to be a part of in my 13 years in education.” She said it does not surprise her that Holly and Kepley are two of the driving forces behind it.

“They are both exceptional students, goal-oriented and mature beyond their years,” she said. “In my opinion, they are two of best and brightest Delaware has to offer. So, no, this is not surprising.”

Becoming a doctor is not the goal of Apollo: Youth in Medicine, Holly continued. There’s always the possibility to conclude that medicine is definitely not the right career. But the opportunity to experience it first-hand is invaluable.

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