Donovan Pryor wants to be a doctor. So, when the rising Kenwood Academy senior and Chatham resident got a chance this past summer to connect with doctors, gain exposure to potential career paths, interact with real patients, and observe medical procedures during his weeks as a participant in UChicago’s Youth Internship Program (YIP), he was thrilled.
“Overall, it was an amazing experience,” Pryor, who interned in UChicago Medicine’s (UCM) gastroenterology department, said. “I really didn’t know what gastroenterology was before this program and everybody I was working with was extremely open and kind. There was just a lot that we got to do within a six-week program— it was incredible that we were able to get it all done.”
It was Pryor’s second summer taking part in YIP following time spent supporting the Office of Civic Engagement (which facilitates the program) last year. The paid employment opportunity for Chicago Public high school students from the city’s South Side provides interns like Pryor with meaningful work experience while also offering professional development workshops, career exploration activities, and college readiness and access programming. In 2023, in partnership with the city’s One Summer Chicago youth employment program, the program was expanded to serve more than 60 students and shifted to its current two-summer format with a focus on STEM fields. Second-summer interns are placed in direct internships in health sciences, computer sciences, or IT services within one of several University units.
Having volunteered as a suburban hospital candy striper himself as a teen, Edwin McDonald—a UCM gastroenterologist and Pryor’s internship supervisor—says his goal in partnering with YIP was to ensure interns were exposed to real medicine in action, not just standing around and occasionally distributing patient blankets like McDonald remembers from his own high school experience.
“I treated them just like I would treat medical students,” McDonald said. “I know Donovan is interested in going into medicine and he was really functioning at the level of a medical student, minus some terminology issues from not going to medical school. If we’re trying to expose students to careers in medicine, if that’s the goal, I think we should actually do that. I hope they got a realistic view of what a career in healthcare could potentially look like.”
That approach meant Pryor and his fellow intern sat in on colonoscopies, endoscopies, and other procedures; got to work closely with doctors, nurses, and medical students from different departments; and even joined McDonald in treating clinic patients.
“As the program progressed, we got to have more hands-on experience,” Pryor said. “We got to actually talk to patients one-on-one, actually play the role of a doctor, and then Dr. McDonald would come in and follow up with them and we got to sit in on that part too. That was probably my favorite part of the program—it was just a super cool thing to connect with people on that level.”
The internship was an opportunity to connect with people in the medical field as well. McDonald introduced his interns to an array of his colleagues in hopes that the connections lay the foundation for a growing professional network as the teens consider their college and post-secondary plans.
“I wanted them to see the diversity that exists within healthcare, and I also wanted them to hear from other people in terms of why they were interested in medicine,” McDonald said. “It’s one thing for me to just tell them my story but I think everyone has a unique story that has value that has brought them to medicine and if my story didn’t resonate with them then hopefully somebody else’s did.”
Pryor says the experience has him thinking about pursuing gastroenterology in medical school and has given him a boost of confidence and excitement as he narrows his college search during the school year. McDonald has already committed to writing Pryor a letter of recommendation as he starts his applications process and passed along at least one admissions opportunity so far. The internship additionally shifted the way Pryor says he sees the university overall.
“Before this program, it felt like the like campus was closed off, like it’s only for college students or people who have business there,” he said. “But being on campus was an eye-opening experience for us looking at the university as a cool place with a lot of cool people, and we can be here.”