Health lessons

Students pay close attention to the teacher during a class in the health services department at Jacksonville High School.

With so many recognized health-based programs available in our area through TJC, SFA, and UT-Tyler, it only makes sense to offer interested high school students an in-depth look into those careers as they plan their futures.

The Health Sciences pathway at JHS does just that. This pathway has evolved into a 3 year program that culminates with a practicum course providing supervised rotations at both of our local hospitals. Those who pass this course and test are considered certified Clinical Medical Assistants, and students also have the opportunity to acquire college credit through Tyler Junior College.

Ms. Erin Reynolds and Ms. Abby Eckert are the Health Science instructors. Ms. Reynolds says, “I wish these kinds of classes had been around when I was in school. It really does provide a peek into what a career involves that a health careers student may be interested in”.

First year students begin an entry level course with Principles of Health Science in the fall semester and Medical Terminology in the spring. The following year they move on to Health Science, which is a TJC Dual Credit class. The course is designed to provide for the development of advanced knowledge and skills related to a variety of health careers, as well as hands-on experiences to encourage skill development.

Apparently, this course of study hit a nerve with a large number of JHS students. According to CTE Director, Jeff Boyd, “Health careers are the fastest growing careers in East Texas. What we are trying to do with our expanding Health Science program is provide a workforce to fill the gap”. The increasing numbers of students in this program validates that point. In the 2015-16 school year, Ms. Reynolds had 5 students in the advanced class. This year she has 25 students, and she expects over 50 in the practicum class next year.

The 2 Health Science classrooms, housed in the only remaining portable buildings on campus, look more like exam rooms than classrooms. Exam tables, skeletons, and a multitude of hands-on practice tools are front and center. Instructor Abby Eckert says, “We do hands on blood pressure and vital signs checks. I like to make this class very hands on”. Mr. Boyd is quick to thank the local Kiwanis Club for making a brand new set of classroom laptops available, and lists an impressive array of medical training products in use in the classrooms. Boyd says, “The HS classes have exam tables, a very sophisticated electronic CPR dummy that simulates different types of health problems with removable organs, and electronic temperature/blood pressure monitors so they can learn to check vitals on the same type of equipment used in a doctor’s office. As the program expands, we will need to find the space to introduce even more practical application tools”.

Practicum in Health Science, which is comprised of seniors, is the 3rd year course in which students travel 2 times per week to our local hospitals for supervised practical application of the lessons they have learned in their previous classes. The course is designed to help with personal and interpersonal skills and to encourage successful transitions to the workforce or, as in most cases, into postsecondary education.

Each student is assigned a department to shadow. They dress the part, wearing scrubs on the days they are bussed to their location. When talking with the students, they all show extreme enthusiasm about their assignments. One was particularly looking forward to the ER, another ICU, and another assigned to OB had high hopes of observing a C-section. These students are all planning on continuing their educations, specifically in RN/BSN programs, Radiology, Dentistry, and Medical Doctor. According to Ms. Reynolds, all 25 of her Practicum students have already applied to at least one college. She says some applied to the TJC Health Science program, others to UT-Tyler, Baylor, UT-Austin, and even Indiana. When asked if the classes solidified their desires to go into a health career, they were unanimous that the experience had not only confirmed it, but as senior Rubi Salazar said, “I can picture myself in those situations now”. Perla Chaparro and Yaneli Servin both agree that they want to make a difference in a patient’s life, and the real life experiences help them realize that they actually can be part of making a positive change in the world.

ETMC-Jacksonville welcomes these students on Tuesdays and Thursdays until November 1 and then Trinity Mother Frances will have them until the Christmas break. They will repeat at both hospitals through the spring semester. Jennifer and Malisa, both nurses in Ambulatory Care, enjoy the students shadowing them. Jennifer states that she “loves having the students – and I just wish there had been a program like this in place when I was young. I didn’t even consider nursing until I was much older”. Both nurses agree that the program is a great opportunity for students. In the ETMC Lab, JHS senior Perla Chaparro received rave reviews from Lab staff member Amanda. “I am so impressed with this one (Perla); she asks questions, and wants to be a doctor. She is awesome”.

The Health Science instructors are obviously admired by their students. Emily Sanchez vouches for the class being a favorite among the seniors by saying, “This is the class I look forward to when I first wake up every morning”. Alondra Torres simply states that their class is “the”. (I think that means not only good, but extra good). Ms. Reynolds brags about her students, saying, “I love and believe in them – sometimes more than they believe in themselves”.

According to Mr. Boyd, the Health Science program has 241 students currently enrolled, which is double the 2015-16 enrollment. Certifications offered include OSHA/Health Careers and CPR/Health Workers, as well as the previously mentioned Clinical Medical Assistant certification.

This Career Pathway seems destined to become one of the most valuable preparatory pathways available to students interested in a medical career. With so many opportunities of higher education in the medical field so readily accessible to Jacksonville, these JHS students easily see a way to further their studies, as well as leave high school prepared and ahead in knowledge and skills when applying to their field of study. Having multiple medical offices, two local hospitals, and large regional medical centers close by, Jacksonville’s future will very much benefit from this program as JHS students complete their professional degrees and quickly become part of the professional medical environment in our area.

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