VCU Collaborative Program Allows High School Students to Explore Health Care Professions
Visit to VCU Medical Center gives students hands-on learning
VCU Communications and Public Relations
As one group of students learned how to place a breathing tube into a small child’s airway, another team in Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center’s Surgery Trauma ICU simulated resuscitating a patient who had lost a pulse.
But these were not medical students. Instead, they were high school students and members of the health science exploration course at Cosby High School in Chesterfield County during a visit to the VCU Medical Center.
Part of a collaborative effort between VCU’s Division of Health Sciences Diversity in University College and Cosby High School, the program is designed so that high school students interested in pursuing health careers can make informed choices about their career paths by engaging with multiple health professions through a 15-week course.
This is the program’s fifth year of operation and the second year that the program organizers have coordinated the hospital visit, which is a critical piece of the program, according to Seth Leibowitz, Ed.D., director of pre-health advising in VCU’s University College.
“These students start the center program very young – as freshmen in high school – and they’re selected into the center based on their interest in health care,” said Leibowitz. “It’s the mission of the center to make sure that we give them some direction in terms of which health career to go into. It’s also very important that they get exposure to the different options in a meaningful way and this is really an opportunity for us to work together with the center to accomplish that.”
The program allows high school students to learn about jobs in the health care field and provides opportunities for them to visit a local medical facility while working with medical professionals in a real-world environment.
“The health care industry is so monumental, it’s not just one career here or there,” said Cassie Rogers, Cosby High School health science specialty coordinator. “What VCU and Dr. Liebowitz have brought to our specialty center is one of the most unique opportunities, and also this endeavor is a dual benefit in that the health care industry needs the kids and the kids need the exposure to the health care industry.”
Throughout the 15 weeks, students attend classes that include lectures, lab experiences and in-class exercises taught by Cosby faculty and visiting VCU professors. Organized by Stephanie Smith, community coordinator of the VCU Medical Center’s Injury and Violence Prevention Program (IVPP), the hospital visits provide the sophomore level high school students the opportunity to shadow health care workers in different fields and learn about the roles various health care workers play in delivering emergency care services.
“IVPP is deeply committed to the collaborative partnership with Cosby High School and VCU’s Division of Health Sciences Diversity in University College,” said Michel Aboutanos, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Surgery and director of VCU’s Injury and Violence Prevention Program. “If we can influence one student to see what we do as a vocation, not a job, we have made a difference.”
This is the second year that IVPP has participated in the health science exploration course. This year, students had the opportunity to visit the Emergency Department, Surgery Trauma ICU, Neuroscience ICU, Pediatric Emergency Department, Medical Respiratory ICU, General Rehabilitation, Brain Injury Rehabilitation, Main 9 Trauma, Transplant Unit, Pastoral Care and Care Coordination. Medical providers from each of these units volunteered their time and engaged students in medical simulation activities that relate to trauma and acute emergencies.
“I think this program is important because training to be a health care worker is such a long road, so with the preparation to decide whether or not to do it, you need to start early,” said Kamryn Pointer, a Cosby High School student participating in the health exploration course.
Pointer, who has an interest in pursuing medicine, says she encourages students to explore health care professions because they allow individuals to give back a great deal.
“I’ve learned that there are a broad number of options for people interested in health care and I’ve sort of established that this is where I want to be,” said Pointer. “It’s really generous of everyone to offer us the chance to come around and see everything and it’s a great opportunity for us—once in a lifetime, especially at our age.”