The fact that deoxyribonucleic acid replicates only once per cell cycle titillates the thinking process for Ramona F. Swaby.
"Isn't it exciting?" says the 24-year-old Seton Hill resident, a second-year student at the University of Maryland Medical School.
"Cell proliferation can lead to cancer," Ms. Swaby says. "And no one knows why. I want to know."
Her enthusiasm for the complexity of cells and her passion in pursuing her medical education attracted the attention of the Monumental City Medical Society. The society, made up of black medical professionals, works to improve health care for Baltimore's minority residents through education seminars and community outreach programs.
The society was equally impressed with another University of Maryland Medical School student, Chere M. Chase, 25, a North Baltimore resident whose particular medical passion is children.
"Children are incredible people, even when they're sick," Ms. Chase says. "It's rewarding to impact children's lives and give them more time to live."
Ms. Swaby and Ms. Chase are the society's 1992 recipients of $1,500 scholarships to help them continue their medical training. The money is not large when the entire cost of a medical education is considered, but the society feels it is important to make a symbolic contribution toward filling a need in the medical community.
The scholarships go to African-American medical students who are legal residents in the Baltimore metropolitan area, regardless of where they attend school across the country. Last year, two other women from the University of Maryland Medical School received the awards.
Ms. Chase and Ms. Swaby hope to have M.D.'s after their names before the decade is half over, joining an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 practicing black physicians in the United States. The National Medical Association, an organization for black physicians, says the total is only 3 percent of the nation's doctors.
Ms. Swaby says she was attracted to medicine because her grandmother was a nurse.
"I liked the fact that [health professionals] have to come up with a strategy for patients to get better," she says.
While an undergraduate at the University of Maryland at College Park, Ms. Swaby worked as a laboratory assistant at the Food and Drug Administration. Her work as a biological aide at the National Cancer Institute during those years influenced her interest in cancer research.
Now a research assistant at the medical school's Department of Pharmacology while pursuing her studies, she says research is stressful but much more rewarding than other graduate programs that require class lectures on old material.
"This is real," she says. "It matters, not like in English classes where you're asked why T. S. Eliot wrote a certain passage. In medical research, you feel like what you're doing is a contribution people will rely on."
Besides attending class, Ms. Chase is a research assistant in the Department of Pediatrics. She says she can't think of anything better than helping children.
Her role model was her physician, who worked with children in a low-income area of Newark, N.J., where she was born and grew up.
"It became a fascination to understand everything there is to know about the human body," says Ms. Chase. "Medicine, if not abused, is a very powerful tool."
During her sophomore year at Brown University, Ms. Chase coordinated learning and recreational activities for hospitalized children at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence.
To qualify for the society award, applicants had to write about their career goals, provide recommendations and transcripts of their educational achievement, and demonstrate financial need.
A native of Bucks County, Pa., Ms. Swaby has lived in Baltimore for two years. She received her degree in zoology from the University of Maryland at College Park in 1990.
Ms. Chase moved to Baltimore three years ago to attend Johns Hopkins University, receiving a master of health science degree in 1991. She received a bachelor's degree in biology from Brown University in 1988.
A Monumental City Medical Society goal is to encourage young black scholarship students to practice in the Baltimore area when they have finished their training.
"A lot of physicians come back to work in the community," says Dr. Deborah J. Joyner, society chairwoman. "It's not only important for health reasons, but to provide role models, too."