Carissa Lucas, left, a junior at Falmouth High School with Dr. Rakesh Jain, who received the National Medal of Science in 2016. Lucas met Jain at the National Academy of Future Physicians and Medical Scientists this summer. Courtesy / Carissa Lucas

FALMOUTH — Carissa Lucas is driven by the need to have a meaningful impact on the lives of others. The best way to do that, the Falmouth High School junior believes, is by becoming a doctor.

Lucas, 16, attended the National Academy of Future Physicians and Medical Scientists, held at the University of Massachusetts Lowell in June. Founded five years ago, the academy‘s goal is to “identify, encourage and mentor students who wish to devote their lives to the service of humanity as physicians, (and) medical scientists …,” according to the organization’s website.

The academy’s website states that the U.S. is facing a critical shortage in the number of people training to become primary care doctors or other medical specialists.

That claim is backed by the Association of American Medical Colleges, which states there’s an acute need for more young people to study medicine. The association predicts the U.S. will face a shortage of between 46,900 and 121,900 physicians by 2032 as older doctors retire.

“These shortages pose a real risk to patients (since it) will likely limit or delay access to care. Because it takes seven to 15 years to train a doctor, projected shortages in 2032 need to be addressed now so that patients will have access to the care they need,” the association’s website states.

Lucas said this week that what attracted her to the National Academy of Future Physicians and Medical Scientists was the chance to “hear from some of the most inspiring people in the medical field,” including Dr. Rakesh Jain, who has won many awards for his pioneering research into tumor biology.

Jain, who is the director of the Edwin L. Steele Laboratory for Tumor Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital, received the National Medal of Science from President Barack Obama in 2016.

“No other (summer) program gives high school students interested in medicine the chance to meet and learn from so many amazing people,” Lucas said. “I thought hearing from all these people would further my interest in medicine and gave me some insight into the possibilities out there. My favorite thing was to hear from all these amazing professionals. Each one has a unique journey to becoming involved in medicine and they were inspiring to hear.”

Lucas said the academy curriculum included a variety of noted speakers, question-and-answer sessions and the chance to interact with patients and advocates “with powerful stories to share.”

What made the three-day event even more special, she said, was hearing from young scientists who’ve already made significant advances in the medical field, such as Shree Bose, who at age 17 won the 2011 Grand Prize at the first-ever Google Global Science Fair for her study of ovarian cancer.

“I have loved science from a young age, whether it’s engineering or biology, I love it. In medicine you can see that the work you do has a real impact on the lives of those around you and it has always appealed to me as a potential career path,” Lucas said this week.

Kimberly Blenk, who teaches science at Falmouth High, called Lucas “an amazing young woman.”

“She’s genuinely curious about how the world works, from ocean sciences to biology, from astronomy to geology,” Blenk said, adding that Lucas was “a quiet leader in and out of the classroom.”

Lucas also participates in the Maine Medical Explorers program, robotics, Ocean Bowl and the Science Olympiad activities at school.

She’s still two years away from attending college, but Lucas is already considering various options, from a university in Australia to more local colleges in New England. “It will eventually come down to which college will give me the best chance at a career in medical science,” she said.

“One day I could potentially see myself returning to Maine for work,” Lucas said. “But I want to explore other places first and get more global experience before I settle down.”

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