“When I was growing up, I didn’t get encouragement to go to medical school,” Noelle Fabian said. “I didn’t think I was smart enough.” Fabian, who lives in Forest Park, wasn’t exposed to the world of medicine until her sophomore year of college, when she worked as a scribe in an emergency room. She is now a second-year medical student at Loyola’s Stritch School of Medicine. Fabian and some of her classmates are introducing students at Proviso Math & Science Academy to the health care profession through Loyola’s PULSE program.

The acronym stands for Proviso United with Loyola Students for Educational Enrichment, explained Loyola’s program manager, Kyra Calhoun. “In 2006, the PMSA administrator approached Loyola for a partnership to mentor and tutor students,” Calhoun said. “The medical students got on board immediately.”

PULSE is designed for PMSA students who are interested in a medical career. This year, 66 students applied to participate in the program. They walk or carpool to the Loyola campus and are mentored monthly by medical students for 90 minutes. The high-schoolers get hands-on experience in different branches of medicine, such as cardiology, surgery and anatomy. So far, 234 PMSA students have passed through
the program.

The February session was on emergency medicine and was led by an ER doctor, Mark Cichon, D.O. He has two teenagers at home, so he knew how to reach his adolescent audience. He offered them Girl Scout cookies and played music in Tilden Hall. “Stayin’ Alive” was an appropriate selection. He also grabbed their attention with clips from the TV show ER.

After showing them a diagram of how to intubate a patient, Cichon projected a photo of a code team in action. He gave them the somber statistic that 85 percent of patients are not revived by CPR. “ER doctors have to know a little about every aspect of medicine,” Cichon explained. “We’re bone doctors, surgeons, neurologists and ob-gyns.” In 27 years, Cichon has brought 18 babies into the world.

He categorized 80 percent of the care as “routine.” But there are many moments when the excitement is “hot, fast and now.”

“You have to think on your feet,” Cichon told the students. “I’ve made a living at jumping to conclusions.”

He was assisted in his presentation by Fabian and her team, as well as six of his paramedic students. They set up three demonstration stations for the PMSA kids. They learned how to apply a cervical collar and strap a patient onto a backboard, how to take vital signs, and they took turns securing each other to a gurney.

“PULSE offers a wonderful opportunity to see a broad base of possibilities in medicine,” Cichon said. The program offers glimpses into many different health care professions. Students who are interested in becoming nurses, physician assistants and paramedics can get a feel for what they’ll face.

Calhoun is in charge of recruiting physicians like Cichon to lead the sessions. They teach students such disparate skills as using a stethoscope and dissecting a cadaver. “PULSE gives the students confidence to pursue a career in the medical field,” she said. “It helps them learn what it will take to reach their goal, what subjects they should take in high school and college.

“Our medical students also benefit from the experience,” she added. “They describe their backgrounds and the application process. Some are hoping to become full-time teachers.”

Fabian’s advice to the students is, “Do what you love and learn people skills,” before starting the rigorous medical training. She minored in philosophy and took art and history courses, before deciding on medicine. She said the PMSA students seem to profit from interaction with medical students and the visual aids they employ.

“When we covered cardiology, we showed them tubes of fat. We talked about maintaining a healthy lifestyle to avoid heart disease. I love hanging out with the students. We see ourselves as role models who can have fun with them and give good advice.”


Karthika Nair didn’t need an introduction to the medical field; her mother and grandmother are nurses. But she also had her eyes opened by the PULSE program. The 18-year-old Forest Park native started the program in her junior year. “There was an application to fill-out with essay questions,” the senior recalled. “You also had to have a certain GPA level.”

Nair has the pleasant problem of having too many interests. “I was in chorus and robotics. I’ve gone back and forth on whether I want to be an architect, teacher or engineer.” PULSE exposed her to even more career choices.

“We learned ER medicine, taking vitals and anatomy,” Nair said. “I see my classmates getting so excited. The medical students show us what to do and the doctors talk about how it feels to help people.”

After asking the Stritch students how medical school works, Nair decided to become a physician’s assistant. “It takes seven years to become a PA. I’ll be able to do rounds, work at different hospitals and have a very flexible schedule.”

One of her classmates, Susie Decker, has also gotten some direction from PULSE. “In junior year, I started thinking about nursing,” Decker said. “Many friends of my family are nurses. I wanted to be in patient care but didn’t want to be a doctor.”

Decker had friends who had gone through the PULSE program and was intrigued enough to try it in senior year. “We got to see cadavers, pick up brains and identify regions of the body. It’s not colored like in the books.” She wasn’t squeamish but found the smell to be unpleasant.

The lifelong Forest Parker was also exposed to medical career possibilities when she visited her older sister, Julia, in Johannesburg, South Africa. She toured health care facilities during her three-week stay.

“I want to get out of Forest Park and travel,” Decker said. “I’ve already been to 21 states and Mexico.”

In the meantime, she has enjoyed her years at PMSA. “We have very diverse students,” she said. “I love my classmates.” They can kid each other without getting offended. “It’s like a family,” she added. Decker played soccer for Proviso and joined some school clubs. She likes science, but not math, and is maintaining a 3.8 GPA.

As for her next step on the educational ladder, Decker plans to attend Triton College. “I want to get my general education courses out of the way, while saving a lot of money.” Triton also has a nursing program that might be a natural fit for a former PULSE participant.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.