Students can look into careers in medicine

Published 10:49 pm Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Demopolis High School students have a unique opportunity to gain insight into the field of medicine with the health occupations class offered in conjunction with Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital.

Each semester, 16 to 18 students meet at the hospital daily to hear lectures from different medical staff and department managers, learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and attend clinical rotations. Students also participate in a “tabletop” disaster drill during the semester.

“This is not a typical classroom course,” said Danny Smith, BWWMH director of human resources and the coordinator for the health occupations class. “[Yet] this is a bonafide course where students get a half-credit toward graduation. Students earn a grade through writing assignments, exams, projects and other things.”

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The class has had full participation for the past five semesters.

“The class began in fall of 2006,” said Smith. “We got the idea from an article in the Sylacauga newspaper where their hospital and school system had gone together to provide a program like this.”

Smith said the Demopolis school system met the idea with overwhelming support.

“Naturally, (former superintendent) Dr. (Wesley) Hill and (former DHS principal) Dr. (Isaac) Espy liked the idea, so then, we took it to the school board and they approved it,” Smith said. “Dr. Hill and Dr. Espy were very supportive of this program. (Current DHS principal) Mr. (Leon) Clark, since he came on board, has been extremely supportive of the program as well, and Debbie Nichols and the various teachers involved have been very helpful each semester.”

Participants in the course are selected by DHS from an application process.

“They have always sent us a great group,” Smith said. “The students have always been responsive and taken the class seriously, but at the same time we do have a lot of fun.”

Smith is excited that the hospital can offer students a chance to experience the health care profession in a hands-on way.

“The part of the course that students like the best is clinical rotations,” he said. “We divide them into teams and they visit various departments such as surgery, patient floors, the respiratory department, physical therapy, the lab and the emergency room.”

Students complete these rotations over the course of the semester while wearing white lab coats on loan to them from the hospital. During the observations, Smith emphasized the patients are always the top priority.

“With the rotations, we still make sure to protect the privacy and confidentiality of the patients,” Smith said. “The patient privacy laws do allow for student observations with the patient’s permission, and our patients have always been very gracious and supportive. They realize that these students are the future of health care.”

In fact, many students of the health occupation class have decided to make the health care field a part of their future.

“A lot of the students have gone on to study various health care-related fields in college,” Smith said. “One is going into occupational therapy, and several are in nursing school. Others have plans to pursue pharmacy and medical school.”

The health occupations class is open to eligible DHS students in grades 11 and 12. Those seeking more information should contact DHS counselor Debbie Nichols at 289-0294.