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Medical Preneur: Mary Mason

COMPANY: Little Medical School
LAUNCH: 1999-2015
LOCATION: St. Louis, Missouri
MISSION: Inspire young minds by sharing our passion for learning, health and careers in medicine.

HERSTORY: I am a doctor’s kid. My mother was one of four women in her medical school class in 1954. She loved being a physician and did everything she could to get me, my siblings, our cousins and friends to pursue a career in medicine. As a 6-year-old, I couldn’t wait for her to get home from her office. She would bring me tongue depressors, gauze pads and bandages for my “doctor’s office” in our playroom. I had a little white coat, stethoscope and an old-fashion black doctor’s bag—I felt like a real doctor.

At Thanksgiving, we would “suture” the stuffed turkey. As I got older, I learn how to give an injection to an orange. I had no doubt in my mind that medicine was an achievable career path for me, even when adults thoughtlessly reminded how many years I would have to go to school, or how hard it would be. It was only later, as a first-year medical student, did I realize how powerful those early experiences were in shaping my conviction to pursue a career in medicine.

In 1998, I was a chief resident in Internal Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, and I decided to recreate my childhood experiences and wrote the first Little Medical School. I recruited fellow residents and medical students to help me teach. Our first class attended by 13-year-olds surprised me. They were acting silly and were not embracing the experience as I had hope.

I went home and gathered up a basketful of white coats and stethoscope and brought them to the second class and made the students put them on. Dressed in a white coat with a stethoscope around their neck, the students were engaged, attentive and having so much fun, they didn’t realize how much they were learning. That was the AHA moment. the power of role-play, and this has been a key pillar of all Little Medical School programs.

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