Teen students get a head start on their future through Health Careers Program

A group of middle schoolers sings “Happy Birthday” over a sink at Martin Middle School in Corpus Christi, Texas. There’s no cake and no gifts. In fact, no one in the room is celebrating a birthday today. They’re just killing germs.

Teaching proper hand washing is just one of the ways staff from the Texas A&M Health Science Center Coastal Bend Health Education Center (CBHEC) introduces teenagers to the world of health science. During this visit to Martin Middle School’s Health Care Careers Club meeting, they’re teaching about bacteria and viruses, explaining the transmission and reproduction of each agent. Students then get to practice proper hand-washing by using a special product that, under a black light, shows how many “germs” are left on hands after an ineffective wash.  The rule of thumb for proper hand-washing is to lather up with soap and warm water and scrub for 20 seconds, which is about how long it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song.

CBHEC has introduced a variety of health-related career paths to teens across South Texas. Its Health Careers Program reached more than 600 students from elementary to high school this year, teaching them about careers such as medical technology and clinical laboratory science, pharmacy, phlebotomy (collecting blood samples), and respiratory therapy through a program that includes a mobile medical library, annual conference and two-day summer camp.

The program aims to spark area youth’s interests in health careers, especially career paths that are in high demand in South Texas and across the state.  By educating young people about these career paths and getting them interested early, the program positions them to achieve their career goals and also helps to address a growing problem in the South Texas area. An overwhelming number of counties spanning the region have been identified as Health Professional Shortage Areas by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, meaning that more health professionals are needed in the region, from primary care doctors to dentists, pharmacists and medical technicians.

“Our goal is that many of these students will choose to pursue health care careers and return to the region to practice their profession and help meet the needs of the Coastal Bend,” said Cheryl Bullen, CBHEC health education coordinator.

high school student learns CPR

South Texas high school students learned CPR, among other medical tasks, at this year’s Health Careers Discovery Camp held at Post Acute Medical Specialty Hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas.

One popular and successful aspect of the program is the annual Health Careers Discovery Camp. This year, campers got to experience what it’s like to work in a hospital. Twenty-five students from high schools throughout the Coastal Bend spent two days interacting with medical professionals at Post Acute Medical Specialty Hospital in Corpus Christi. They used simulation equipment to practice basic medical procedures including drawing blood, taking vitals and performing CPR. The second day was spent observing hospital clinicians with their patients in pharmacy, radiology, physical and occupational therapy, respiratory therapy and nursing.

CBHEC provides support year-round for students involved with the program by establishing Health Care Careers and Future Nurses clubs in local middle and high schools. Faculty sponsors help students select the most important classes for acceptance into advanced health education programs. The center equips the clubs with supplemental resources, including a hands-on, mobile medical library that features a broad array of training equipment, such as an auscultation simulator to hear different heart and lung sounds and microscopes with an assortment of slides that allow students to identify cells from different parts of the body. The library also includes synthetic human arms to teach phlebotomy, the science of drawing blood.

“These kids didn’t know what a phlebotomist was when they joined the club,” said Nelda Cummings, a registered nurse who also serves as the school nurse and club sponsor.  “Being exposed to these careers can really shape their future. They’ve learned about radiologists and what a respiratory therapist is. They get a head start on their future with this program, and it’s been great.”

Following the visit, a student told Cummings she plans to become a phlebotomist.  It very well may happen, as Cummings has seen before.  A former member from the club’s first year, who learned about pharmacy through a CBHEC health careers event, is now enrolled at the TAMHSC Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy in Kingsville.

“At this age, their minds are like sponges,” she said. “Programs like this have so much influence on what path they take.”

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