Mira Costa High School sophomore and aspiring neurosurgeon Donnè Ward, left, recently met with Keith L. Black, MD, chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai. (Cedars-Sinai)

Donnè Ward, a Mira Costa High School sophomore, has always been interested in medicine. So interested that his grandmother, Trena Lawson, said he was 5 when he first talked about becoming a doctor.

As a member of the Los Angeles Clippers Mentorship Assist Zone, Ward twice took part in a program at the Cedars-Sinai Women’s Guild Simulation Center for Advanced Clinical Skills

As part of the program, Ward and 30 other students tried out the latest robotic surgical tools in the medical education laboratory that Cedars-Sinai employees have nicknamed the Sim Center.

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In the Sim Center, all the rooms, including the operating rooms, are exact hospital replicas. Ward and his friends performed mock surgery on lifelike manikins and learned CPR techniques and suturing.

And when Ward expressed an interest in neurology and neurosurgery, Cedars-Sinai arranged for the teenager and his grandmother to meet with Keith L. Black, MD, chair of the Department of Neurosurgery and the Ruth and Lawrence Harvey Chair in Neuroscience at Cedars-Sinai.

“At first, I couldn’t believe Dr. Black would really take the time to meet with a high school student, so I spent a lot of time writing my list of questions,” Ward said.

“I was so impressed that he spent so much time with me and answered every single question.”

Lawson said the experience was a “pivotal moment” for her grandson.

“This is one of those things that can set the course for the rest of a young person’s life,” said Lawson.

“Donnè described Dr. Black as very welcoming and said he was delighted to speak with a renowned doctor and learn about his path to success.”

Black has a passion for opening the field of medicine to minority communities through a variety of programs that he has championed, including Brainworks, where local students come to Cedars-Sinai for a day and learn about neurosurgery.

“My goal has long been to expose as many students as possible to the fascinating field of science, especially neuroscience,” said Black. “I’m grateful for the mentors and programs that encouraged my pursuit of medicine as a young man, and I want to encourage new generations of potential physician-scientists.”

The simulation center, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, has opened its doors to hundreds of schoolchildren for hands-on educational programming and mentorship events.

“These programs really can make a difference in students’ lives,” said Russell Metcalfe-Smith, executive director of Interprofessional Education, Simulation, Medical Library. “We are exposing children to careers they may not have known existed and positively influencing their future career choices.”