A few years ago, Matt Zuber of Tamaqua had a thought that local students interested in a career in health care might benefit by having direct and personal contact with members of the medical profession.

The Ursinus student's idea has blossomed into a successful event called the Future Physicians Dinner offered by St. Luke's Miners Memorial Hospital. The unique affair, casually nicknamed by hospital representatives as 'Dinner with the docs,' provides an opportunity for local high school students and pre-med college students to connect with local physicians.

The second annual dinner was hosted Tuesday by Macaluso's Restaurant in Nesquehoning. The first one was held one year ago at the Restaurant at the Station, Tamaqua. Tuesday's event drew 25 students who were given an opportunity to mix and mingle with eight physicians associated with the Coaldale hospital.

"There is no program," explained Micah Gursky, director of development. Instead, the students are given maximum opportunity to interact with the hospital medical staff and ask questions about all aspects of the health care field and related education.

"You can discuss with doctors any of your concerns or issues you might have," said Zuber to those gathering for the buffet dinner.

Zuber is a 2007 graduate of Tamaqua Area High School. He told the TIMES NEWS the dinner serves an important need.

"I knew how difficult it was to interact with doctors," he recalled. "This provides a stepping stone for students looking at careers in medicine and health care in general."

Zuber developed the program as part of an internship. Among those taking part this year were students from Panther Valley, Lehighton, Tamaqua, Marian and Jim Thorpe high schools and a few colleges.

While most were high school seniors, at least one of the attendees took part in last year's event and attested to its success.

Sarah Bednar of Lehighton Area High School said she was given opportunities to experience the medical profession first-hand as part of her senior project after speaking with two anesthesiologists and other physicians at last year's dinner.

"I shadowed a dozen doctors. I was able to figure out what type of medicine I was interested in," Bednar explained, noting that she will pursue a career in geriatric medicine.

Tiffany Harleman, also of Lehighton, has a strong leaning toward a career in physical therapy because it provides "satisfaction in getting people back on their feet after injury." Harleman has been inspired to pursue medicine by her mother, an RN at Sacred Heart Hospital, Allentown.

Yet another Lehighton student, Madeline Zurn, said she intends to enter Ursinus College to pursue her interest in medicine.

The young women joined other students at their table in discussing aspects of health care with Dr. Lee Riley, St. Luke's surgical oncologist.

Ralph Richards, St. Luke's administrative director, encouraged the students to continue with their pursuits and in building key relationships. He also made it clear that their destination could very well be in their own hometown area.

"You'll have a successful practice and will be investing back into the community," said Richards. "You guys represent some of the brightest kids in our area. Come back to the coal region. We're a great place to be and to expand your career."

St. Luke's Miners Memorial Hospital is currently celebrating an anniversary based on '100 years of caring'. The hospital was founded in 1910 to serve the needs of local miners and their families.

Today, the facility serves the health care needs of residents of Schuylkill, Carbon and lower Luzerne counties and is a fully accredited, not-for-profit, 45-bed acute care hospital located in Schuylkill County near the Carbon County border.

The hospital became a member of the nationally recognized St. Luke's Hospital and Health Network in 2000 and currently provides health care services to more than 11,000 people annually.

Services also include a home health agency and 48-bed skilled nursing facility.