Call it happenstance, kismet, or just a coincidence, but Charles Vollmer, M.D. ’85, Cimarron Sharon, M.D. ’09, and Joseph Savino, M.D. are all colleagues at the Hospital of The University of Pennsylvania, but they also have something else in common: The Hun School.
Dr. Vollmer and Dr. Sharon attended Hun, while Dr. Savino is the father of two current Hun Middle School faculty: humanities teacher Michael Savino and computer science teacher Nicholas Savino. Recently, the three doctors collaborated on something other than surgery, hosting a dozen Hun School students for a day of in-depth exploration of the medical field. And, in-depth was the operative word, as students watched Dr. Vollmer remove a tumor from a patient’s stomach.
Dr. Vollmer, director of pancreatic surgery, spoke to the students before the surgery about the operating room experience while also explaining what it takes to become a surgeon. “Even when I was at Hun I was interested in being a doctor,” he told the audience of eager students, “but it takes a long time to get here. It was ten years after medical school before I got to this point.”
To illustrate that point, Dr. Vollmer then invited Dr. Cimarron Sharon ’09, also a former Hun student and a member of Dr. Vollmer’s surgery team, to share her experience. Dr. Sharon took students through the process in an approachable and entertaining way, peppering the conversation with memories of her time at Hun (“I doubled up in science and that was really helpful”) along with some med school survival tips (“treat it like a 9 to 5 job”).
Blane Soper ’19, one of the students on the trip, said “there are few other high schools that place such a large emphasis on experiential learning—these experiences are a huge reason why I chose Hun. The surgery, along with a visit to Penn's animal labs and a research presentation, presented all sides of the medical industry, from administrative to research to clinical. This gives us a significant advantage by helping us find our passions early.”
After the surgery, the doctors hosted a question and answer session. They surprised the students by saying that biology is not always the best choice for an undergraduate major. “Study what you’re passionate about, because you’ll have the most success,” said Dr. Vollmer. Dr. Sharon added that many music majors go into medicine. As for determining a specialty, all three doctors agreed that there is plenty of time to figure that out. “I thought I wanted to go into pediatrics, but I ended up doing my surgery rotation first and I loved it,” said Dr. Sharon. For her and Dr. Vollmer, surgery gets their blood flowing. “The great thing and why I love it is the decision making,” said Dr. Vollmer.
Armed with an understanding of a day in the life of a surgeon, students then saw a different medical path—research. Dr. Savino mentioned that some students choose not to practice, opting for careers in the pharmaceutical industry or hospital administration instead.
“Learning about the different elements of medicine was really thought provoking and made me think about it from a different perspective,” said Shubha Vasisht ‘19. “I really enjoyed watching the surgery and receiving explanations in real time from Hun alumni…I felt more connected to the medical field.”
“Providing students with these kinds of experiences and opportunities while in high school gives them a chance to explore the decision-making process, take some risks, and reflect on their future paths,” said Hun Science Department Chair Jacqueline O’Gorman. “They all left with an excitement as well as an affirmation and they seemed to grab a hold of the energy and fast pace of the hospital without fear, and the enthusiasm of knowing that one day they too could be an integral part of a medical team.”