Students learn about health-care careers through Valley Health-school program

By Kim Walter

WINCHESTER – This week, 35 area students are getting an up-close look into what goes into working in a health-related field.

The Health Sciences Academy, which is the culmination of two projects between Valley Health and school divisions in Winchester and Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren counties, is new this year. While Valley Health already offers a variety of camps for students interested in a health profession, the academy takes everything a bit further.

Lisa Zerull, Valley Health’s education coordinator, said the program is geared toward students who might otherwise never have a chance to get the classroom and practical experience offered.

After applying and writing an essay on why they should be chosen to participate, students were chosen by their school’s guidance counselors. Preference was given to those with at least a 3.0 grade point average, a good grasp of science and math, and an interest in health care.

Zerull said half of the participating schools gave their selected students a scholarship to attend.

“This is a great opportunity for perhaps a segment of our population who might not get this chance, to get a feel for working in health care,” she said Tuesday. “Many of these youth will be the first generation from their family to go to college.”

One requirement to participate was that students take a one-week course at Lord Fairfax Community College. SDV 101 gave them a general orientation to health care, Zerull said. Plus, the students get college credit.

On Monday, participants got to tour Winchester Medical Center, learned how to properly wash their hands, and realized what they were putting on their lunch plate probably wasn’t as healthy as they thought.

Tuesday was spent focusing on how Shenandoah University faculty and students work with Valley Health. Wednesday and Thursday will allow participants to shadow Valley Health employees at their local hospitals, and on Friday students can learn more about what Lord Fairfax Community College has to offer if they want to pursue a health profession.

Zerull also teaches at the university, and said it’s always good to see students become employees at local hospitals.

“That’s one thing that Valley Health is hoping to get out of this … we want these students to realize how many job opportunities exist right here, and this is a great way to kind of get them acquainted with the system,” she said. “But, I can’t even explain how neat it is to see a nurse walking down the hall, and realize that I taught her how to wash her hands.”

Zerull said the participants listed “nurse” and “doctor” as the best-known health professions. She said she hopes that by the end of the week they might consider a career as a pharmacy or radiology technician, or a physical therapy assistant.

“I know these are jobs that we need filled,” she said. “And, you know, maybe this will make some of these kids realize that the health field isn’t for them, and that’s OK.”

Some of the students came into the academy just wanting to do something that helps people, while others have a specific career in mind.

Joseph McCabe, 17, will be a senior at Stonewall Jackson High School in the fall. He didn’t originally apply to the program, but when students from his school dropped out, a teacher approached him about the opportunity.

“I didn’t really know what to expect, but I liked that I would get college credit,” he said.

So far, Joseph is glad he came.

“I’m quickly realizing that I want to do something along the lines of physical therapy,” he said. “I’m an athlete, and I’ve been injured a bunch of times, so I have a real appreciation for what physical therapists do.”

Joesph said he looks forward to watching a patient progress and get stronger. He knows the feeling — he’s currently in physical therapy as a result of a shoulder injury.

Kimberly Parada, 18, said she would like to be a medical assistant, and plans to work toward that goal after graduating from Strasburg High School next spring. She always knew she wanted to help other people, and said the job does just that.

“One thing that has surprised me is how many people and jobs it takes to take care of one person,” she said. “But it has to be a good feeling, knowing you made a difference.”

After graduating from Warren County High School next year, Brittany Williamson, 17, wants to be a medic in the Navy. She said she hopes the program will teach her “how this field works.”

On Wednesday and Thursday, she will shadow a nurse and pharmacy technician in Front Royal.

“I can’t wait to really see everything they do on a normal day,” she said. “There’s a lot to learn.”

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com