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Brainworks Student Program Celebrates 20 Years

Keith L. Black, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Neurosurgery, (right) supervises an interactive station at the annual Brainworks event on March 12.

The program, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, is designed to expose students to scientific and technological advances in neurosurgery and other healthcare specialties in a way that inspires the next generation of doctors and scientists.

"Brainworks began because we wanted to expose as many young minds as we could to how exciting science is," said Black, professor and chair of the Department of Neurosurgery.

This year's three-hour program at the Harvey Morse Auditorium included a series of interactive stations staffed by Cedars-Sinai employees and vendors who offered students a chance to have hands-on experiences with 3-D imaging for interactive virtual surgery, a navigation system to see inside the patient's brain during surgery, a virtual reality program that focuses on the healthcare benefits of VR technology and other displays to spur interest in medical and scientific fields.

Black said programs like Brainworks encouraged his pursuit of medicine when he was young, and it was his hope that the program would spark interest in science or healthcare fields for students who might not otherwise think it possible. This year's crop of students was drawn from Helen Keller Middle School, Virgil Middle School, KIPP Academy and Cathedral High School.

One of the stations offered students an opportunity to hold a sheep's brain as members of the Department of Neurosurgery described the various parts of the organ to them. "It felt nasty at first, but then it started to feel normal," said Abigail Salim, a 12-year-old student at Virgil who expressed interest in becoming a neurosurgeon.

The students also heard from Tiffany Perry, MD, assistant professor of Neurosurgery, who described a recent medical mission to Uganda; Stroke Program coordinator Laurie Paletz, who taught the students about careers in nursing; and Julie Chan, MD, a neurosurgery resident who talked about what motivated her to become a neurosurgeon.

Marc H. Rapaport, chair of the Board of Directors, also stopped by the event.

"Reaching out to the community and demonstrating future healthcare career opportunities for people at a time when they are trying to decide what direction to choose, is very valuable," he said. "And reaching out with someone as distinguished as Dr. Black makes it extra special."