A summer job as a camp counselor at Camp HOPE leads to a promising future in medicine.
When Shannon Allport worked as a camp counselor last summer at AIDS Foundation Houston’s Camp HOPE, her charge was to help the kids, who are all HIV positive, feel as much like regular campers as possible. There were doctors on staff to take care of the health of the campers.
So Allport swam with the kids, who were between the ages of 7 and 15. She helped them make tie-dye T-shirts, ride horses, and plan clever girly pranks on the neighboring boys’ cabin. And she loved that part of her job. She couldn’t quite keep away, though, from the medical side of things.
“I didn’t have to, but I asked to help the doctors,” says Allport, who is graduating with a degree in biology and will be attending medical school at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall. “I wanted to see the kinds of interactions they had with the kids.”
What she saw was a clear glimpse of the kind of medicine she wants to someday practice, and of the kind of system she wants to help build.
“It was so much more than handing medication over, running tests, taking care of the technical things,” she says. “You have to be able to calm the kids down and talk to them and be there for them because they are away from their parents for the week. Most of them did not come from very happy households, if they even had households at all. What I realized is that you have to look at the whole patient, and they have to understand that they can trust you to help them.”
That kind of holistic orientation, says Allport, has been at the root of almost everything she’s valued while in college. It’s what she’s tried to foster as a leader of a dizzying number of student organizations, including the Kappa Rho Pre-Medical Honor Society, Multicultural Students in Natural Sciences, the Student Involvement Council for the Heman Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights, and the President’s Student Advisory Council.
It’s the attitude she’s brought to her job as a Senior Student Associate in the Office of the Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement. It’s what she’s practiced a peer mentor and Orientation Advisor. It’s what compelled her to ensure that she was one of two undergraduates on the search committee for the new Dean of the College of Natural Sciences, and why she made sure the student perspective was heard on President Powers’ Task force on Undergraduate Graduation Rates. It’s why she’s helped expand the doctor shadowing opportunities for pre-med students. It’s what she was the beneficiary of as a freshman and sophomore in the Biology Scholars Program, an intensive enrichment program for biology majors from under-represented groups. And it’s what shapes her goals as she moves forward.
“Bringing people together, offering support, listening to what people need and trying to help them get past the obstacles in their way — that’s what’s most gratifying to me,” says Allport. “It’s what I’d like to be doing everyday as a doctor.”