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SLAMS Program Brings Together Health Professions Community and West Philly Neighbors

February 14, 2024

By August Ryan

Middle school students can be a tough crowd to impress, but Drexel University College of Medicine community members leading educational courses at Science Leadership Academy Middle School (SLAMS) said the students are excited and engaged.

Last fall, seventh and eighth graders watched as the College of Medicine’s Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Dean and Drexel University Senior Vice President of Medical Affairs Charles B. Cairns, MD, used his background in emergency medicine to teach CPR.

SLAMS Program

“He was right down on the floor doing CPR with them,” said Annette Gadegbeku, MD, lead faculty overseeing the interprofessional collaborative SLAMS mini courses. Dr. Gadegbeku is associate professor and chief, Division of Community Health in the Department of Family, Community & Preventive Medicine, and associate dean of Community Health in the Office of Community Health & Health Equity at the College of Medicine.

“We had a two-minute challenge as part of the CPR training, so Dean Cairns was there doing chest compressions with the students for two minutes straight.”

After eight weeks of hands-on lessons in health topics from Drexel University health professions community members, the middle-schoolers said they did not want the fall cycle of mini courses to end.


In a variety of different sessions, faculty, students and professional staff members from the College of Medicine and the College of Nursing and Health Professions taught educational sessions that fell under one of two core curriculums. “Science of Health,” for fifth and sixth graders, incorporated lessons about health science topics including anatomy and physiology to conversations about personal health. “Go Into Health,” for seventh and eighth graders, covered discussions and demonstrations on a wide variety of health care professions, careers, positions and health-related jobs.

Part of the focus of the SLAMS mini courses is to introduce young Philadelphians to the breadth of health professions and opportunities. Having instructors from the diverse Drexel University community also helps give students who are from communities historically underrepresented in medicine the opportunity to see someone with a similar background succeeding in health professions fields.

“Our hope, our dream, our vision, our ultimate goal is that if we can make an impression as we continue to meet them here at SLAMS and potentially follow them through their academic career,” Gadegbeku said. “Then maybe one day some may matriculate into Drexel University’s undergraduate schools and even end up at one of our health professions graduate programs. Over a decade, we would have made an impact and created a pathway that leads to increasing the diversity of the workforce in this area.”

The program also allows for collaboration on several levels – between Drexel University programs housed in the new Health Sciences Building in University City and between their next-door neighbor, the SLAMS School.

“All of it just seemed like a great opportunity to be able to work with youth who are basically in our back yard, in our West Philly community, and to collaborate with our health professions schools,” said Gadegbeku. “It was a better setup than I could even arrange.”

Drexel community members began participating in SLAMS Mini-Courses shortly after the College of Medicine’s MD program students joined their College of Nursing and Health Professions peers in the new Health Sciences Building in fall 2023 when a colleague in the Drexel University School of Education contacted Gadegbeku. The courses are continuing into this 2024 Winter Cycle and the Dornsife School of Public Health has joined the collaboration.

“SLAMS sounded like something we would definitely want to participate in – particularly me, in the new office of Community Health and Health Equity,” Gadegbeku said. “We're always about community engagement and have always wanted to partner with Philadelphia schools to collaborate and do community outreach and activities with youth.”

Gadegbeku is also faculty director of Healing Hurt People in the Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice at the Dornsife School of Public Health, and assistant director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Research Consortium. As a professor and an advisor to community engagement-focused student programs, Gadegbeku knew both the middle school and health professions students would benefit from participating in the SLAMS mini courses.

“We often hear from medical students that working at SLAMS is a great way to take a break from studying and to do something fun, but that is still health related,” she said. “What's cool is that as a student, they get to talk about the subjects and skills they have been developing. What better way to reinforce some of what they are learning and that they will be teaching in the future to patients?”

Gadegbeku said Drexel-based program participants gain as much from the students as the students do from them. In a session called “Food to Fuel,” Kirsten Larson, PhD, professor in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology, taught students about how food is broken down for nutrients and how those nutrients enter the bloodstream. Like Gadegbeku, Larson gave the middle school students a glowing review.

“The students were excited and engaged. It was fun teaching young people with so much energy and passion,” Larson said. “Working with these curious and knowledgeable young people who might be sitting in our classes in a few years was very motivating.”