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Gasal participates in medicine forum as prep for career choice

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Mackenzie Gasal, a junior this fall at West Fargo High School, was among young scholars from across the nation who participated in the National Youth Leadership Forum on Medicine (NYLF/MED) held July 17 through July 26 in Boston, Mass.

Sessions were held in ten cities across the U.S. bringing together high school students, in grades nine through 12, who demonstrated academic excellence, leadership potential, and an interest in a career in medicine.

This opportunity helped broaden Mackenzie's perspective in her career choice to become a pediatrician and provided insight and hands-on experience as a medical resident and student. She also earned two college credits for attending and completing the assignments at the Forum on Medicine.

Mackenzie was nominated to attend the program after scoring in the top five percent in the nation on her PSAT last fall, and based on her leadership ability and qualifications. She is the daughter of Tammy Gasal of West Fargo and Jarred Gasal of Jamestown.

Throughout her life, Mackenzie has been inspired no matter what the challenge, involved in several extracurricular activities - dancing, cheerleading, gymnastics, basketball and figure skating.

After entering West Fargo High School, her focus shifted to academics. She is currently a member of the French Club, National Honor Society, and The National Society of High School Scholars; in enrolled in a handful of dual credit and AP courses; and this fall, will be joining the high school prom committee and Key Club.

She has also received awards for essay contests - Voice of Democracy and Patriot's Pen; and has been an active volunteer, including high school graduation, sandbagging during the Fargo flood, assisting with the elderly at a local nursing home, and sending care packages to soldiers serving in Iraq.

Through her attendance at the Forum, Mackenzie had the opportunity to study medicine in some of the nation's leading medical facilities and universities; was introduced to a variety of concepts in public health, medical ethics, research and general practice including site visits to medical facilities and clinics; and was involved in a simulation using problem-based learning, an educational method in which students presented a fictional patient's case history and diagnosed and developed a treatment plan for the patient.

Mackenzie said she "always dreamed of becoming a doctor" and was inspired to want to work with children because her mom has a daycare. "I had always wanted to help children abroad since I was eight-years old, when my mom, younger siblings, and I traveled to Vietnam for about a month. I was very young at the time, but the experience changed my life forever. My youngest sister is adopted from there and we were able to visit and help with the orphanage she was from. I love kids and it broke my heart to see the conditions these kids had to live in. This led me to want to become a pediatrician and then go abroad and help give medical care to third world countries in need. I love helping people which is what a doctor does on a daily basis, but I wanted to treat more than the common cold. I believe I could do a lot more with my talents if I became a pediatrician, and make an impact on the world, where it is really needed. High school has opened me to new things, like considering a new like of mine, genetics. Somehow, I hope I can do something dealing with the study of genetics because of my love for it. I do not know if I want to become a pediatrician or a geneticist for sure, but I do know I want to go into the medical field to help others and I also know I want to for sure travel abroad to help third world countries in need. I think helping others is a big and important part of life and I would love to have my career based on this."

Mackenzie said that what she took away from the forum was a great learning experience. "The forum was very different than I thought it would be, in a very good way. I went there thinking I would be surrounded by a bunch of super smart, know-it-all people and that most of the trip would be a bunch of lectures and that we would have to do boring assignments. My experience was the complete opposite. I left the forum with many new leadership skills and I believe the experience made me more outgoing." She said the one thing that stood out most was the difference in medical institutions, Tufts and Harvard in particular, which led her to think differently about her future aspirations. Noting the marked differences in the people and kindness factors, Mackenzie stated "the people at Tufts are far more kind, in my opinion. I am not discouraging others from going to Harvard. I just learned from this experience that it is very important to visit these colleges, and imagine if you can see yourself happy there, instead of just going because of the name."

The forum also provided students with a little down time in the evenings which Mackenzie thoroughly enjoyed. "Every night we did something different, from barbeques, to ice cream socials, to movie nights, to a group talent show, to dj dances, one of which was on a three-story boat on the Boston Harbor at night. These experiences were like the cherry on top."

She was also very taken away by the wonderful fellow students she came in contact with. "The other students I met there are truthfully now like family to me. I was very happy to be selected to go on this trip. It truly has been one of the best times in my life. I learned a lot, am more confident and outgoing, but the favorite think I was left with are all the new relationships. The people I met there have become some of my closest friends. I wouldn't trade this experience for the world."

On that note, Mackenzie's mother Tammy said she too is thrilled that her daughter was able to be a part of this life changing opportunity. "I'm extremely proud of Mackenzie and all that she has accomplished. It's wonderful she wants two be a doctor, but her success isn't going to be measured by that. She realizes that it's going to be how she can touch other peoples lives and how much she learned along the way and being able to balance her life so that she's happy and giving back in this world. The experience at the forum was a huge step in many life changing experiences she's been able to experience over the years. In our home I've always told my children whatever you dream, is possible if you utilize the opportunity positively, don't give up, and always remember to give back in some way."