An $80 medical 'school' for the curious

  • Article by: Maura Lerner
  • Star Tribune
  • September 30, 2011 - 10:45 AM

It might not be as impressive as the real thing, but for $80 and a few hours a week for five weeks, you can earn a certificate as a Mini Doctor of Medicine from the University of Minnesota.

Since 1999, the university has been churning out "graduates" of its Mini Medical School, a popular lecture series about science and medicine for the curious of all ages.

Next month, it begins its 25th session, "Battling Cancer: Breakthroughs at the U."

About 5,700 people have gone through the program, says coordinator Jenny Meslow. Of course, she likes to add, "we stress to them that it doesn't mean that they can practice medicine."

Mini Med School was started, in part, to build public support for research. It's held Monday evenings in a U auditorium where medical students attend lectures.

Each session, about 275 students are "admitted" from all walks of life -- teachers, engineers, the occasional lawyer -- to listen to prominent researchers and have an "up close" experience that stops short of cutting anyone open.

Sometimes, Meslow says, "we have actual brain specimens." Or pacemakers. Or cancer cells.

It may not sound like fun to everyone. But Kay Willshire, a self-described doctor wannabe from St. Paul, hasn't missed a session in 10 years.

"I've always been interested in medicine and medical topics," said Willshire, who works in corporate communications. "Once I got in, I was really hooked. Even if the speaker wasn't especially exciting, the topic always was."

Over the years, she's had mini lessons in anatomy, whole-body health, dentistry and human sexuality. Now, she has about 20 Mini Med School certificates, but insists that no one calls her doctor.

"Only my husband," she laughed. He even bought her a white lab coat, she said, "so I guess I can put that on when the kids come for Halloween."

To register, go to

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