TRADING CAPS AND GOWNS FOR SCRUBS

Story by Jeannie Stone

Birthing babies, setting broken bones, pulling rotten teeth; those are the high points of high school according to recent graduates Ashley McAlister, Kayla Oliver and Eva Rivas, who completed the Medical Professions program offered by the Area Career and Training Center located at Russellville High School.

Not everyone is cut out to withstand the guts and gore of a medical career. It’s the job of Joy Peebles to introduce the disciplines to the students enrolled in the two- year program. Peebles, formerly the high school nurse, is the medical professions teacher. She loves getting to know each student and helping to uncover their passions, she said.

“That’s the secret of happiness – to love what you do.”

Peebles should know. As a student at the University of Arkansas she set her eyes upon becoming a nurse. Somewhere during the 13 years she served as school nurse, she felt called toward vocational education and returned to the U of A to obtain another bachelor’s degree.

“This Area Career and Training Center is very well-respected,” Peebles said. “The quality of hands-on learning and job shadowing opportunities makes this program really shine.”

Peebles believes in the power of job shadowing. “I wish all young people had these opportunities to shadow to see if they are suited for a particular career. A lot of times college graduates complete their degrees lacking any experience in the field and are shocked to learn, once they’ve seen what goes into the job, they are no longer interested in the career area they’ve graduated into.”

The three recent graduates at hand are not likely to flounder into an abyss of uncertainty.

Eva Rivas, daughter of Orlando and Sandra Rivas of Russellville, is the 2009 Area Career Center Student Medical Professions Student of the Year. Her desire is to become a labor and delivery nurse, and she is pursuing an R.N. degree at Arkansas Tech University.

She admits to feeling a bit scared because of the unknown rigors of college level work, but Peebles is confident of Rivas “We use some of the same textbooks that (Arkansas) Tech uses, so I think she’s more prepared than she realizes,” she said. Rivas, who enjoys working out, drawing, traveling and watching

movies in her spare time, credits the medical professions videos shown in class for sparking her interest.

Job shadowing for a local vet awarded Rivas real life opportunities to care for newborn raccoons and opossums.

Rivas, like all the other medical professions students, is CPR and First Aid certified. The training and exposure she has received has given her a practical edge as she anticipates the arrival of a nephew.

Kayla Oliver, daughter of Michael Oliver of Pottsville, received a scholarship to the University of Arkansas Community College in Morrilton where she plans to complete her required coursework before advancing to nursing school. She is interested in pediatric nursing.

Oliver, sister to five siblings, has always enjoyed children.

“I can understand kids better than adults,” she said. She also praises the instructional videos which were shown in class. “They helped me see what careers I might be comfortable with.”

Owner of an animal menagerie, Oliver, who enjoys reading inspirational stories, flirted with the idea of studying veterinary medicine after an exhilarating experience job shadowing.

“I got to assist the vet with surgery to remove a dog’s tail,” she said. “You could hear the bone cracking and everything. It didn’t even faze me.”

Job shadowing is the final chapter of the intense two-year Medical Professions track. Students must have completed Biology with a grade point of 2.5 or better and submit applications along with teacher recommendations to enter the course of studies.

Juniors beginning their first year in the program study the structure and function of the human body with emphasis on pathology. Students become familiar with medical terminology and submit written and oral reports revealing the nature, origin, progress and cause of particular diseases. Several dissections and guest lecturers representing the different disciplines in medicine complete the first year of study.

Second year students — high school seniors — research and evaluate the various health career clusters. Demonstrative videos, showing scenarios such as open heart surgery and CPR, are only part of the curriculum ‘hands on’ activities, cutting open a cow’s heart, and sawing the meat and bones, are designed to involve the students in the learning process.

Each student further chooses one career to devote his or her attention and submits research in that field. Students acquire skills necessary to perform vital signs, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, first aid and infection control safety procedures.

The Spring semester introduces skills in nursing assisting, office assisting, laboratory procedures, dentistry, and physical therapy techniques. Eight weeks of job shadowing follow. Students must keep weekly journals of their experiences and share with the class health concerns they’ve witnessed first-hand.

ATU – Ozarks campus, the first local college to partner with the high school program, offers up to seven hours of concurrent credit for students enrolled in the Medical Professions track.

Ashley McAlister of Dover, daughter of James and Carla McAlister, was influenced by an aunt and a cousin who are nurses. Her older sister and mother also went through the ACTC. That’s another reason I considered enrolling,” she said.

“I like what nurses do, but I really don’t like dealing with all the emotions nurses deal with. Medical Technology really appealed to me.”

McAlister was awarded a full scholarship to UACCM where she plans to complete her necessary coursework before transferring to UAMS.

“In their senior year we really study the pros and cons of each career and explore the personality strengths of each student,” Peebles said. “When rotations came around I stuck Ashley in the lab more than anywhere else because she had such a strong attraction to that line of work.”

“I really liked the dissecting, working on the culture plates and working the blood bank. The smell takes some getting used to, but I have found what I want to do,” McAlister said.

Saint Mary’s Assistant Lab Director, Melanie Elmore, is glad to encourage the students and has hired two phlebotomists who shadowed as high school students.

“There is such a shortage in the medical tech field. There are only two schools in the state. The security of these jobs is phenomenal. Our hospital census is as high as always. We’re working as hard or harder than we ever did.”

“I wish I had something like this when I was in high school,” Elmore said. “Students get a real taste into the many possibilities of going into the med-tech field.”

“The support we get from the medical community in Russellville is tremendous,” Peebles said. “Melanie comes and talks to the students telling them what a medical technician does. She may have the students make DNA necklaces or extractions, and another time they might do a lab experiment using non-contagious substances.”

Elmore is not the only supporter who offers such encouragement.

“All of our benefactors are great,” she said. “They let the students hang out with them, do vital signs, clean up patients. They get to see things they’d never get to see otherwise. Sometimes, they get to see heart catheterizations, and last year, a girl helped perform CPR in ICU at the hospital. For these kids it doesn’t get any better than that.”

Dr. Richard Morgan, a local dentist, has participated in the program for five years. He and hygienist Karla McCool visit the classroom informing the students of their working relationship and what educational needs must be met for each job.

“She even shows them the dental instruments we use. We talk about dental health care and how it affects total health,” he said.

“When I decided to go to dental school I was required to show proof that I observed so many hours, so I job shadowed as a college student. Nowadays, even to go to dental hygiene school you must have logged 40 hours of observation first. These kids have a huge step up on other young people.”

A lot of students enjoy visiting Dr. Morgan’s clinic because they are exposed to many different situations, he said.

“I have a full service dental practice,” Morgan said. “They can watch tooth extracts, root canals, no telling what else on any given day. And I haven’t had anybody pass out on me yet.”

Gabe Freyaldenhoven, physical therapist and owner of River Valley Therapy and Sports Medicine, is impressed with the quality of students rotating under his supervision.

“They do a great job, and it’s been great to see their willingness to learn,” he said. “The students are getting their feet wet in a lot of different areas. I have no doubt their experience will increase their longevity in the field.”

Freyaldenhoven, like Morgan, sees a shift in the importance schools are placing on job shadowing.

“PT schools now require 40-80 hours spent in the clinical setting. I think it’s wonderful.”

During rotations at his clinic, students monitor patients’ vitals and check their heart rate.

“They are an extra set of hands, and that is huge when you’re trying to move a patient five days out from knee replacement surgery. To that person walking is a big deal.”

Freyaldenhoven, who also lectures at the high school teaching one entire class on muscle rehabilitation alone, leads the students in spending a day in a wheelchair.

“If you’re going to work with patients suffering from limited mobility, you have to learn how to fall out of a wheelchair. Of course, they also like to pop wheelies in the wheelchairs,” he said, “but they get to apply what they learn into real world situations.

“Choosing one career doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind down the road,” Peebles said. “I had a mid-life career change, but at least they’re pointing in a direction and have a better chance at succeeding with the experience of having gone through this program.

“I love the students, and I feel like this job is a blessing,” she said. “I love coming to school every day.”

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