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Danae Smart, MD, MS, second-year family medicine resident at the UNC School of Medicine, created Healthcare Sparks to inspire the next generation to consider professions in healthcare and related fields.

CHAPEL HILL, NC — Danae Smart, MD, MS, noticed a disparity in many pre-college-aged students’ access to healthcare and STEM-related fields early in her time in medical school at Loma Linda University in California. In response, Smart, now a second-year resident at UNC Family Medicine, created Healthcare Sparks at the end of her first year of medical school to encourage professionals in training to engage with middle and high school students with the goal of sparking their interest in medicine and related scientific fields.

Danae Smart, MD, MS, Smart emphasizes the need for representation in healthcare, stating,“I believe there must be more diversity in healthcare. Lack of resources and lack of exposure to black and brown healthcare professionals are two barriers that inhibit minority students from pursuing health careers, barriers which Healthcare Sparks addresses.”

The program, initially supported through the Healthy Neighborhood Projects program at Loma Linda, began with an afterschool enrichment program in San Bernadino and included many children coming from households of incarcerated parents. The sessions were led by medical students and explored basic anatomy and physiology concepts reinforced with educational games, using an interactive “Healthcare” booklet that Smart has now published.

Starting her residency at UNC Family Medicine, Smart hoped to expand the program to more institutions, noting the positive feedback from students.

Danae Smart, MD, MS,“I conducted a survey at the US Dream Academy in San Bernadino, and all of the respondents reported learning more about science and being more interested in health careers since starting Healthcare Sparks,” Smart said. “Feedback at Culbreth Middle School in Chapel Hill was similar, with students noting the session was better than they expected, and that they didn’t know a science lesson would be so enjoyable.”

With the use of the published Healthcare Sparks book and video resources available on the website, the goal is to have more professionals in training who can lead the learning sessions.

Dr. Smart“Ultimately, I hope Healthcare Sparks inspires students to pursue health careers and creates mentorship opportunities for volunteers who decide to start the program at their institutions,” Smart said. “I want students to see providers who look like them and to know they can achieve whatever goals they aspire to.”

To learn more about the program, watch this video and visit

Media contact: Reid Johnson, Communications Director, UNC Family Medicine