A dozen curious heads bent over a human arm, sliced and splayed open on the operating table.
As a third-year medical resident tugs on various tendons stretching from the wrist, the high school and college students in the room watched first the thumb, then fourth finger wiggle in response.
None of the attentive students, high school- and college-age participants in an internship program offered through the University of Tennessee College of Medicine's orthopedics department giggled or even winced at the sight of the arm, which had been donated to science by a former World War II veteran.
"This isn't a place we can come and have childishness," said Dr. Joe Rudd, director of research in the UT College of Medicine in Chattanooga's Department of Orthopedics and internship coordinator.
"Even the younger ones, down to 16 years old, you can tell when you meet them they're professional. They're advanced students and they're serious about what they're going to do," he said.
The internship program is growing in popularity among both college and high school students who have plans to go into the medical field, Dr. Rudd said. Fifteen students, including two high school students, are participating in this year's orthopedics internship program. Another 15 students are working in a similar internship in the UT College of Medicine in Chattanooga's radiology department.
"We're trying to bring in (students) who are going to be the doctors who will take care of us when we get old. We are taking the best of the best," Dr. Rudd said.
After a two-hour session on privacy regulations under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the students get to work in the orthopedic skills labs, observe surgeries, rotate through various medical departments and confirm or deny their budding interest in the medical field.
The program aims to recruit new talent to the field.
"In all honesty, people aren't interested in becoming doctors and scientists anymore," Dr. Rudd said. "The idea is to interest young people in becoming physicians, because we're in a world today where we're going to have a shortage of physicians if we don't."
Students receive a national HIPAA certification and can put on their resume that they have completed a 50-hour internship, Dr. Rudd said.
"It gives them some more credibility when they apply for medical school," he said. "We've got 15- and 14-year-olds working on their resumes right now because things are getting so competitive."
Eighteen-year-old Jim Hollingsworth, who just graduated from Farragut High School in Knoxville and commutes for the internship, said the internship has helped confirm his love of medicine.
"A lot of people in my family are in the health care field, and that's just what's always stuck out to me," said Mr. Hollingsworth, who will attend the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in the fall. "I've learned a lot already."
For 19-year-old Lauren Sigsworth, who is a pre-med student at Southern Adventist University, the best part of the internship has been observing surgeries.
"My favorite so far has been a bilateral knee replacement. That's a very intense surgery and a lot of fun," she said.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE
* Send a letter of interest to:
University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Chattanooga
Dr. Joe Rudd, Department of Orthopedic Research
975 E. 3rd Street, Box 287
Chattanooga, TN 37405