WEST PALM BEACH — Is there a doctor in the house?

Thanks to an innovative local program funded by Quantum Foundation, there will be.

Health Careers Outreach Program (HCOP), initiated in 2011 by Florida Atlantic University and the School District of Palm Beach County Choice & Career Options Department, is an opportunity to expose youngsters to older students that are already on a medical career track.  The hope is that these students will take a vital interest in the medical sciences at a young age, continuing to pursue this field as a career.

And Quantum Foundation, the largest Palm Beach County-based health funder, agrees.  Recently, the Foundation acknowledged the significance of this program and granted Florida Atlantic University’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine $300,000 so that FAU med students would continue to serve as mentors to HCOP participants. Serving grades 6 through 12, the program aims to ensure participants are pre-med and college-bound.

And the success of the program is clear: so far, all HCOP graduates have been accepted to a four-year college or university in their pre-medical major of their choice and have secured more than $500,000 in scholarship funds.

The urgent need for programs such as this is also clear. With the looming healthcare crisis, particularly in South Florida, where an aging population is on the rise, it is vital that young students explore health careers.  And Quantum Foundation, whose mission focuses on funding healthcare initiatives that serve Palm Beach County residents, believes that cultivating homegrown talent is key to avoiding a future crisis.

Additionally, the program is designed to engage minorities, as between 1978 and 2008, 75 percent of all medical school graduates practicing medicine were white, while blacks or African Americans, American Indians/Alaska natives and Hispanics or Latinos comprised a combined 12.3 percent of the U.S. physician workforce.  HCOP is working to close this gap through recruitment, training and retention to increase diversity along the medical career pipeline in Palm Beach County.

And that’s one of the reasons this program is particularly close to the heart of Eric M. Kelly, President of Quantum Foundation.

“As a young black man growing up in a poor part of the county, I harbored dreams of becoming a doctor but there wasn’t a path for me,” he said. “Now there is a way for disadvantaged children or children from underrepresented groups to succeed. I ended up in philanthropy and through my role here at Quantum Foundation I’ve been able to be a small part of helping other kids achieve the same dream I had through programs like HCOP. “

He added: “It’s amazing how that dream came full circle in an unexpected way for me.”