By Josette Keelor
MIDDLETOWN -- Students from area high schools had a chance many others never get to do -- test out career choices before starting a college degree program.
In Valley Health's second Health Sciences Academy this week, 39 rising 10th through 12th graders from 12 area high schools had hands-on learning opportunities through Shenandoah University in Winchester and Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown.
Its goal was to introduce the medical field to students who show an interest in and aptitude for math and science, according to Lisa Zerull, Health Sciences Academy co-coordinator and Valley Health academic liaison and program manager of faith-based services.
Participants submitted applications and were recommended by their school counselors and LFCC career coaches.
"These kids, I must say, are a cut above the rest," Zerull said.
Though 40 were selected, only 39 could attend. Of those, four were boys, Zerull said.
"Nursing is still heavily female," she said. In the beginning, 24 of the 39 expressed an interest in nursing, but she said that might have changed by the end of the week.
"More and more, women are becoming interested in medicine," she said.
Students spent the week learning the various types of health and science jobs they might pursue. They gave injections to a training muscle, started intravenous fluids in a training arm, tested blood glucose and they learned proper hand-washing techniques, which Zerull said is "a skill all of us need to use."
College preparatory classes showed them how to be successful students.
"And then they went into the cadaver lab," Zerull said, adding, "If you could see their faces when they see a full body cadaver." The set-up includes a human brain and an abdomen.
"They have gloves on and they get to touch it and see it," she said.
The cadaver lab was a high point for Danielle Thompson, a rising 11th grader at John Handley High School in Winchester, who plans on becoming a nurse in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
Blaire Collingwood, a junior at Handley, wants to be a surgeon and said the first-hand experience helped define her course of study to pediatric surgery.
Others looked forward to learning more about anesthesiology, emergency room care and pediatric oncology.
Last week in Richmond, the effort was recognized at the Creating Excellence Awards Program where Valley Health earned the Virginia Department of Health's Business and Industry Partnership Award for Region 4 and for the commonwealth of Virginia. Page County and Winchester Public Schools nominated Valley Health for the effort that also extends to school systems in Frederick, Warren, Shenandoah and Clarke counties.
According to Zerull, the program is a success as long as students learn -- whether or not students come away wanting to enter a health sciences field.
"Our aim is really to allow them great opportunities, fun opportunities with a wow factor, that's what I call it."
She said middle school students think everything about medicine is cool, but high school students demand more -- what Zerull called "edu-tainment."
"[It's] education and entertainment blended together," she said. "That's our challenge because that's what they're looking for."
Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org