It was a milestone year for the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine’s (WVSOM) Just Say KNOW educational camp for ninth- through 12th-graders. The program, celebrating its 10th anniversary, returned to its roots with the theme of “Just Say KNOW to Drugs,” the topic that launched the camp in 2013.
The weeklong camp, which took place June 13-17, focused on pharmacology, the science of how drugs act on the body. In recent years, themes have included Just Say KNOW to Anatomy and Just Say KNOW to Neuroscience.
WVSOM medical student interns Patrick Votel and Madison Robinson led this year’s camp, with assistance from undergraduate interns Lexie Mizia and Hunter Wamsley and under the direction of biomedical sciences faculty members Crystal Boudreaux, Ph.D., and Karen Wines, M.S.
Faith Ketron, of Shady Spring, W.Va., has participated in Just Say KNOW for four years. In her final year as a camper, Ketron said the program instilled in her a passion for health care that she’ll take with her this fall to Concord University in Athens, W.Va., where she hopes to begin the path to a career in health care, whether as a cardiologist or an emergency medical technician.
“I definitely benefited from the exposure to medical school the camp gave me,” she said. “It really lets you see what it’s like to study topics that help people live healthier lives, and it gives you hands-on, in-person insight into what you’re getting into if you decide to attend medical school.”
First-time attendee Maxton Lopez, of Oak Hill, W.Va., said he enjoyed the camp and hopes to return.
“I loved all the people I got to meet and the things I got to see,” Lopez said. “I learned about opioids and other kinds of drugs and what each of them do inside your body. In the anatomy lab we got to see a brain, lungs, kidneys and other organs, which was amazing. You’re not just constantly hearing lectures; you get to do different kinds of activities, so it’s fun.”
Students spent the camp’s first day touring WVSOM’s research facilities and listening to an introduction to pharmacology and a lecture on the history and mechanisms of opioids. They participated in a tie-dye activity demonstrating the concepts of bioavailability and pharmacokinetics, learning why drugs administered intravenously have a higher absorption rate than drugs given orally. Campers also played a game in which they threw cornhole bags representing the medication naloxone into squares representing opioid receptors to “block” them, in the same way naloxone can block the effects of an opioid during a drug overdose.
On the second day, students heard lectures on two common antibiotics, penicillin and vancomycin, and learned how they are used to treat infections. To reinforce their understanding, campers built models of peptidoglycan cell walls using Lego pieces and used them to demonstrate how antibiotics work.
On the morning of the camp’s third day, campers visited the school’s Clinical Evaluation Center, where they saw WVSOM’s human-patient simulators, learned how emergency medical personnel stop bleeds, participated in a virtual reality medical simulation and viewed a demonstration of moulage, a technique used to mimic the appearance of injuries for training purposes. In the afternoon, they studied drugs that affect the sympathetic nervous system. Using models made from straws and balloons, students saw the differences between lungs during an asthma attack and after applying albuterol, a medication often used in inhalers.
Fourth-day lectures included information on how monoclonal antibodies are used to treat COVID-19 and how medications known as SSRIs work. Campers played a form of “tag” that showed how SSRIs block reuptake receptors in the brain, allowing them to be used in the treatment of disorders such as depression.
Throughout the week, campers researched a medication of their choice to prepare for a showcase to be livestreamed to families and friends and to members of the WVSOM community. On the camp’s final day, students paired up to offer presentations on how the drugs Prozac, Bactrim, Oxycontin and Narcan work— in medical lingo, their “mechanisms of action” — and the conditions they are used to treat.
Votel, a second-year WVSOM student who helped organize this year’s program and, with Robinson, led campers through the week’s activities, said Just Say KNOW serves as a way to nurture an interest in science and medicine among young people.
“It exposes them to scientific ideas that are more advanced than they’re going to get in high school, and it opens their eyes to how diverse the world of medicine is and how those things can be used to help people in their communities,” Votel said. “The idea is to open them up to possible careers they might be interested in. We teach from a position of medicine, but we also expose them to concepts involved in fields such as research, nursing and community service.”
Just Say KNOW to Drugs was sponsored by the WVSOM Rural Health Initiative and the WVSOM Foundation.