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Exploring a Career in Health Care

May 31, 2011

Program Allows High School Students to See Health Careers Up Close

As a high school student, hardly a week goes by before someone—whether a parent, teacher or other well-meaning adult—asks what you want to do with your life. But how do you know without the right information—or better yet—some real-life experience?

For high school students who are thinking about going into the health care field, it’s a good idea to get a firsthand look at what a range of different professionals do at the local hospital. And a great way to do this is by becoming a Medical Explorer at Washington Hospital, a Learning for Life program affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America.

Medical Explorer Post 539, which was founded in 1967 by Richard Wood M.D., has been helping young people within the Washington Township Health Care District Community for more than 40 years.

Learning and Leadership

Medical Explorers enables local high school students to see in action a variety departments of the hospital, with the added bonus of getting the inside scoop from the people who work in them.

"The program’s purpose is twofold," according to Washington Hospital Chief of Compliance Kris LaVoy. "One is to give high-school aged kids an opportunity to learn about a particular professional area—in our case careers in health care—but it also has the focus of creating an opportunity for them to learn leadership skills."

LaVoy, who has served as the program’s champion and administrative advisor since 2003, gives the lion’s share of credit for the program’s success to the student officers.

"These students very much take responsibility for the functioning of the group," she says. "I am truly an advisor. I’m there to provide feedback, for instance if they reach an impasse when deciding on the choice for the coming year’s officers, but for the most part they are the ones making the decisions.

"During the past year, the group of officers has been just incredible. And with each passing year the next group does something even better. It’s quite rewarding because I really do get to see some really bright, committed, motivated young people."

How the Program Works

The group of students at Washington Hospital typically meets the third Thursday of each month from September through May, though each year LaVoy works to update the program’s scope and logistics so that tours, speakers and activities best meet the students’ needs. For instance, this year, due to a larger group size, the field trip format—in which students have made visits to Stanford University’s research facility and VA Palo Alto Health Care System—was updated.

"To accommodate a group of 60 or 70 students, we set up a variety of activities outside the scope of the regular meetings," LaVoy explains. "This way students could go online and sign up for an activity of their choosing. Some of the things we did included a tour of the hospital’s Cardiac Cath Lab and a tour of the Washington Outpatient Surgery Center, excursions where you couldn’t have taken 60 or 70 kids.

"There were enough opportunities that everybody got to do what they wanted to do for the most part and we did the Outpatient Surgery Center and the Cath Lab twice to give everyone who was interested the chance to participate."

Broadening Horizons

LaVoy notes that many of the students who come through the program arrive saying, "I want to be a doctor."

"I’m sure some will do just that, but I make sure during the course of the year that they know that there are very meaningful, satisfying and well-paying careers in health care other than being a doctor," she says. "I steer them toward a variety of speakers, including nurses, respiratory therapists and pharmacists. I want them to know that there are many opportunities out there."

During the school year, students have the chance to shadow various professionals inside the hospital and have some fun with experiences they might not have elsewhere—such as watching a mannequin in the Richard M. Warren Nursing Skills Lab that simulates live birth.

"Dr. Albert Brooks, our chief of medical staff affairs and a former Ob/Gyn, took the students through delivering a baby, and they loved that," LaVoy enthuses.

A Day in the Life of a Doctor

This year students also had the opportunity to job shadow physicians in an office setting through Washington Township Medical Foundation.

"Physicians with our affiliated medical group have agreed to host the kids in their offices for job shadowing, which is something we’re going to try to continue during the summer," LaVoy says. "Overall I think the kids got a really good experience with this variety of things we could offer them this year."

During the monthly meetings—which are open for local students age 15 to 20 to attend—students also hear from a guest speaker or two. Speakers in the past year, according to LaVoy, included an Ob/Gyn physician, a critical care nurse, a clinical pharmacist, a paramedic, an oncologist, a plastic surgeon and an otolaryngologist—otherwise known as an ear, nose and throat (ENT) physician—among others.

"A big part of what makes the program so successful is the motivation and leadership of the kids who are the officers of the group," LaVoy notes. "I think it’s a very positive experience for these kids."

How to become an explorer

For students looking to learn more about careers in the health care field, the Medical Explorers program will start up again in September. Regular meetings take place the third Thursday of every month September through May, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium in the Washington West building (2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont).

"Students can fill out paperwork and join by coming to a meeting," LaVoy explains. "It’s very simple. They come to a meeting to see if they are interested. If they decide it’s not for them, there’s no commitment, but many of them stick around and find it very valuable."

Membership is open to all students 15 to 20 years of age, who are looking to learn more about the different careers available in the health care field. Dues are $10 per year to pay for insurance and help supplement expenses of the meetings.

To learn more about the Medical Explorers Program, call (510) 791-3400.