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Teens Get Glimpse Of Health Care As Career Choice

Staff member Cathy Cockrell instructs students during a trauma simulation.

A job in the healthcare field nowadays usually requires  a very thorough education, often helped along by getting an early start. This past week, 12 local middle-school students did just that at Carilion’s “Camp Carilion.” Over the course of four days a group of rising 8th and 9th graders toured Roanoke Memorial Hospital and other Carilion facilities, learning about hospital equipment, life-saving techniques and the duties of a healthcare professional.

Now in its fourth year, Camp Carilion originated out of the hospital’s “Caring Careers” program which allows healthcare professionals to participate at career days, sharing information about health care careers and health skills.

According to Program Director Jennifer Underwood, Carilion became aware that other Virginia hospitals were holding summer camps for middle-school students and they partnered with the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association to receive funding for their own summer camp. This year, over 50 Carilion staff members created a plethora of activities,  educating students from William Byrd, Cave Spring, Northside and Hidden Valley middle schools.

On the first day, the students were schooled in heart health issues. They learned about the Heart Alert program at Carilion, which fast-tracks heart attack victims – bypassing lengthy procedures  while deftly integrating EMS personnel, physicians and cath lab technicians.  They observed a simulated heart attack and then followed the activation of the EMS system and the care that a patient receives all the way to the catheterization lab.

The EMS staff took the middle-schoolers under their wing the following day. Students toured the ambulance base and met with EMS professionals. They also toured the Life-Guard 10 helicopter hangar and were introduced to the equipment used while carrying patients in the helicopter. Some got more acquainted than others as student Giselle Bailey found out: “When I got strapped down to the stretcher, I was trying to get up by myself and ended up unbuckling my arms and legs!” said Bailey.  Campers also visited the cardiac rehabilitation department of Carilion and met with a nutritionist and exercise physiologist.

Day three of the camp consisted of a wide survey of trauma services,  where students became familiar with much of the equipment and processes used to treat trauma cases. After being educated about trauma safety and prevention, with a focus on teenage injuries tailored to their age group, they immersed themselves in exercises that taught skills such as IV insertion (practiced on mannequins, of course) and taking vital signs. Students were also schooled in X-rays, suturing, respiratory aid and cervical spine immobilization.

One section where the students got to flex their creative muscles was the “moulage” presentation. Moulage is the art of applying fake injuries, for the express purpose of training EMS teams along with other medical and military personnel.

Following the same lines of instruction that would be taught to EMS trainees, Life Support Training Coordinator Cathy Cockrell showed the students how to apply “black eyes” and “cuts.”  Some horrifyingly well-done  injuries were pointed out by middle-schooler Rebecca Dimarco: “You look pretty good, I mean…bad!,” she told one camper.

Students also took part in a simulated “Gold Alert” trauma, which meant that there were  multiple serious injuries on the “patient.” Trauma Outreach Coordinator Deidra Pennington said that the students  used skills learned in the moulage exercise. She noted that they needed to be prepared for the worst. “Gown up and glove up because you never know what’s going to be coming in on that stretcher,” she told the students as they entered the mock trauma bay.

Students were given cards that outlined their roles in the trauma bay, such as taking vital signs, putting on cervical collars and inserting IVs. They whirled around Becky, a staff volunteer done up in arm and leg moulage, as they put on cervical collars and wedged support blocks under her head. Above all, Pennington said, there had to be a humane touch to their approach: “Remember that our patients are people and that we have to talk to our patients.”

The final day consisted of a trip to Jefferson College of Health Sciences, where the middle school students visited a physician assistant and a respiration therapist. At the end of the day, they played a game said by Underwood to be “kind of like Monopoly and Life,” that was meant to explore the career choices, adult financial decisions and educational concerns that they might come across if seeking a job as a healthcare professional.

Some of the students already seemed to have their eyes on the medical field. “I came last year and had a really good time. I wanted to learn more about jobs at the hospital,” said Kaitlin Pennington when asked why she attended Camp Carilion a second time. Deena Habizi already had her specialties narrowed down: “I’d like to be a pediatrician or an oncologist.  I’m here to learn about the different careers and how the equipment functions.”

By Aaron Layman
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