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Beyond the Books: two girls aim to educate, inspire peers to pursue medicine

Mercy's Hall-Perrine Cancer Center served as the site for Mini Med Camp, organized by two Franklin Middle School students to educate their peers on medical professions.

To have a solution, you must first have a problem.

For middle school students Amira Abdallah and Grace Champanois, that problem is pay -- more specifically, the gender wage gap plaguing the medical field.

"Males and females do the same job as doctors," said Abdallah, a seventh grader at Franklin Middle School in Cedar Rapids. "But here females, just because they're female, get paid $20,000 less than males each year."

Abdallah admits discovering the pay disparity was upsetting at first, but she wanted to turn that fact into a movement, a means to inspire girls just like her to address the issue.

So she came up with the idea of a medical school, centered on educating young girls about potential professions by female professionals.

"We wanted to make a medical school with teachers and everything," said Abdallah.

Her partner, Grace Champanois, pointed out executing such a big idea "would be a lot of hard work and a lot of money and would take a long time."

With the help of Iowa BIG, and particularly the Iowa Youth Accelerator and guidance from mentors like Kenadee Dekko, the two girls narrowed the scope of the project, creating a four-hour program called Mini Med Camp, for middle school girls to learn from some of the best and brightest female physicians in Cedar Rapids.

A cardiologist, an ophthamologist, and a nurse practitioner were among the teachers showcasing their skills at Mercy's Hall-Perrine Cancer Center, where they fielded questions from a captivated adolescent audience.

"Hopefully, [the camp] will be inspiring [the attendees] to become doctors when they're older, and that they'll learn a thing or two that they don't know today," said Champanois.

For Abdallah, the event is about more than professional pursuits.

"A lot of girls these days don't think that they're smart enough. It's not just trying to get girls interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). We're just trying to make girls understand that they're worth it, and that they're good enough to do anything they set their mind to," said Abdallah.

More than two dozen girls attended the event, with Abdallah and Champanois saying they hope to host another camp next year.

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