Shadows in the ER

Program gives local high school students hands-on medical experience

Leticia Ojeda, a senior at Hamilton High School, and Shianne Carpenter, a senior at Inspire School of the Arts and Sciences, participated in the Health-Careers Exploration Summer Institute at Enloe Medical Center.

Leticia Ojeda, a senior at Hamilton High School, and Shianne Carpenter, a senior at Inspire School of the Arts and Sciences, participated in the Health-Careers Exploration Summer Institute at Enloe Medical Center.

Photo courtesy of HESI

Lauren Keene knew she wanted to work in medicine after high school, but she hadn’t yet chosen a specialty. Then, last month, the Durham High School senior attended the Health-Careers Exploration Summer Institute (HESI) at Enloe Medical Center and she found her calling: pain rehabilitation.

The program, she said, “made me confident and passionate in medicine.”

Keene was one of 14 local high school students to participate in HESI, a job-shadowing program run collaboratively by statewide medical training organization the Health Workforce Initiative, Enloe and Butte College. Students spent three weeks attending classes, going on rounds with doctors, and learning about the human body and how to care for it. They earned college credit along the way.

Ellese Mello, coordinator for the Health Workforce Initiative and a HESI instructor, launched the program locally last year after seeing it in action during a trip to San Diego. “I had tears running down my face listening to these students that I didn’t even know,” she recalled. The local program has already gained so much popularity, in fact, that the Health Workforce Initiative will offer a second one through Butte College and Shasta Regional Medical Center later this month.<

HESI is rigorous, Mello said. To be accepted into the program, students must have taken science and health classes in high school or anatomy at Butte College. They spent most of their time with nurses and other staff making rounds in the hospital—where they were exposed to catheter procedures, C-sections and even a natural birth—and the rest in the classroom with Mello. They were assigned daily homework.

Bryan Perez, a recent graduate of Orland High School, said that, before HESI, he was torn between becoming a doctor or an engineer. He didn’t want to waste time and money changing his mind in college.

“I really needed this to know if medicine was for me,” he said. He encourages his peers to try the program if they’re interested in the medical field but have doubts about it. For him, HESI affirmed his love of medicine.

It wasn’t easy for Perez, however. One night a little more than two weeks in, exhausted from HESI and working two jobs—he was helping his family pay off medical bills from his high school soccer injuries—Perez fell asleep at the wheel and crashed his car. Having spent the previous two weeks in and out of Enloe’s emergency room shadowing doctors and nurses, he had a better understanding of the seriousness of the situation.

“Even just lying there I thought, ‘I know what this can be. I might be bleeding internally,’” he said. “Worst case scenario, ‘Oh, God, I’m dying.’”

It turned out his most serious injury was a concussion. But quitting the program was not an option. Perez said he wanted to set a good example for his younger brother and sister. The son of Mexican immigrants, he is the first member of his immediate family to graduate from high school. This fall, when he starts classes at Butte College, he’ll be the first to attend college, as well. His friendship with fellow HESI students helped him get through the tough period—and the program, he said.

HESI doesn’t charge students tuition, as many of them come from low-income families, said Trudy Old, the Health Workforce Initiative deputy sector navigator. The program is paid for with support from the Enloe Foundation and a state-funded mini grant through Feather River College. Exposing young people to the medical industry and getting them excited about helping people is a way of investing in local health care, she said.

“There’s nothing like getting care from someone who lives in the area, grew up in the area and who has passion about the area,” she said.

Each day of the program concluded with a debriefing session led by Mello. By coming together, she said, the students were able to process what they’d witnessed in the emergency room—including death.

That sort of experience is unique for a high school program, Old said. “When you are in college and are studying nursing, you do your clinicals in the third semester. Our group was exposed to very sad things, but were able to pull through it.”

Some situations weren’t quite so dramatic, but still required a level of maturity some high school students might not have yet, Old said. For example, at the beginning of the program students might forget name tags or notes required for clinical rounds, or make jokes at inappropriate times. Old and Mello agreed, however, that there were no issues by the end of the program.

“They are leaving with a professionalism that they didn’t have coming in,” Mello said.

Mike Wiltermood, chief executive officer at Enloe, said the students brought enthusiasm to the hospital rotation. It was a valuable experience for both students and hospital employees, he said.

“It’s really about caring about other people. If you want to be in health [care], you have to be like that,” he said. “The students remind us why we are in the business.”