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May 17, 2013

Students get first-hand look at healthcare professions

JACKSONVILLE — They came. They observed. They learned.

For the past 12 weeks, a dozen members of Jacksonville High School's HOSA (Health Occupation Students of America) organization got a closer view of the world of medical careers, thanks to employees at Mother Frances Hospital in Jacksonville.

Soon-to-be graduate Cesia Hernandez admitted that she initially signed up to be part of the health program “because at first I needed and elective, so I was like, 'Why not join health science?'”

As she grew more interested in learning about the human body, Hernandez said “I was looking at getting my CNA certifications, but they dropped the program” after instructor Jo Meredith died last fall in a car accident.

As different instructors helped fill in until Ginger Voorheese was hired to oversee the program, the school district broadened the scope of the program in an effort to give students a wider range of healthcare careers to consider.

Which culminated in the creation of the inaugural job shadow program students completed this week at the 25-bed local hospital.

Mother Frances was “very receptive” to the idea as it was proposed last fall, Vorheese recalled; “however, certain criteria had to be met” before the program could officially launch in February.

“Initially, instruction was given on each hospital department, personnel and tasks specific to those departments, and each week, students would receive an evaluation grade completed by the department head,” which counted as a test grade in the curriculum, she said. “During the days the students did not rotate, instruction for certification was given for BCLS CPR for healthcare providers and American Heart Association first aid certification.”

All practical matters aside, Hernandez and her fellow classmates said they enjoyed the hands-on learning environment hospital staff fostered the two days a week they spent at Mother Frances.

“I love the hands-on we got to do in the different departments – that was fun,” she said, adding she was surprised at – and happy with – how “they treat us like professionals … this is a really good program.”

Esther Sandoval, a senior student who has “always been interested” in a health career said her favorite part of the rotation was physical therapy.

“It's been a very good learning experience,” she said.

For Victoria Gomez, one of two juniors in the program, getting to see different medical career fields has her now considering work at a medical laboratory, rather than emergency room work.

“I liked getting the experience and all the hands-on (learning),” she said. “My sister is in the program at Tyler Junior College, and she was very excited that they were allowing us to do this.”

And that, said Vorheese, is what has made the program such a success.

“The majority of the kids loved it, have learned from it, felt a sense of pride and appreciated the exposure to life after graduation,” she said. “The students have been able to choose which medical profession they would like to pursue as a result of this rotation, and they have been pleased to gain information for the career in which they are interested.”

The mentoring program allowed them to monitor up close the workings of a hospital environment “right there” with health professionals, thus giving them the feeling of a “hands-on experience,” she added.

Anthe Caruso, the director of nursing at MFH-Jacksonville, is also pleased with how successfully the new program has shaped up – and not just from the student side of things.

“I had an expectation that the students would enjoy this experience (but) what I was most pleased with how the physicians, the nurses and technologists were all so willing to share what they do, how they do it, what it took to get to it,” she said, recalling how one doctor went out of his way to encourage students.

“He told students, 'This is what I did when I was in high school, this is what convinced me to become a physician. You can do it – it may seem like it's impossible right now, but I did it and you can do it,'” she said.

“But really,”she added, “I wasn't surprised, because that's the way the people are here: They are very open to the community, open to teaching. Part of our mission statement is that we improve the healthcare of the community, and what better way to do it is to bring students in who are interested in health care careers and that are going to live here?”

Vorheese agreed.

“There is no doubt the students will reflect back to this opportunity and fully comprehend the benefits awarded through the experience and observing in this hospital rotation,” she said.

As educators review the program to see what areas to tweak and refine, one thing is certain: JHS assistant principal Kyle Lock's decision to give the program more variety has given students another tool in helping them choose their future career paths.

“He's very pleased with the kids, and with the outcome of the program,” Vorheese said.

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