High school Med Prep classes train next generation of medical workers

“The word for a hospital- acquired infection?

“What is nosocomial.”

“The amount taxpayers spend on health care each year?

“What is $2.3 trillion.”

“Percentage of health care dollars spent in the last five years of life?”

“What is 85 percent.”

Without realizing it, local high school students in Medical Prep I were having a fine time learning about health care during class recently.

In a Jeopardy-style game, students in groups raced Friday to be the first to slap bells and shout the answers.

Juniors and seniors from the valley’s seven high schools are encouraged to apply for the class that meets at Western Colorado Community College. The courses whet students’ appetites for careers in health care by offering a broad introduction to the field. Courses also offer career-starter certifications, and students can earn three credits from Mesa State College. The classes have been offered for about 10 years, but this is the first year the class has been expanded to Medical Prep II.

That’s extra training and knowledge that 18-year-old Taelor Serrano can use.

The Grand Junction High School senior works 32 hours a week at Family Health West in Fruita as a certified nursing assistant, thanks to the certification she earned last year in Medical Prep I. She enjoys working with elderly residents and likes the feedback from families who notice when their loved ones appear happier. She definitely wants to continue in the health care field and plans to study nursing at Mesa State College.

“It’s like I’m starting my career and I’m only 18,” Serrano said.

Medical Prep II dovetails with the first class, but also offers an introduction to pharmacology, lab skills and phlebotomy.

Students practice drawing blood on fake arms and learn to formulate prescriptions.

Teens often enter the classes with vague notions about wanting to be “a doctor” or “a nurse.” They soon learn about the myriad career options in health care or whether the work they thought they wanted to do is truly cut out for them, said instructor Theresa Bloom, a registered nurse. Students are required to perform clinicals in local nursing homes. They can earn a first responder certification or earn a credential as a veterinarian assistant.

“We’re creating internal programs so these kids walk out of here and work in a lab or a pharmacy or as an EMT basic,” Bloom said. “They might be able to get jobs in doctors offices or nursing homes. I spend a lot of time saying, ‘Do not hold up the wall. Nobody believes that you can do anything. You earn your credibility by being the most professional person in the room.’ “

Students are soon traveling to Denver to visit a cadaver lab, an event that had students buzzing excitedly. They study anatomy and physiology and the business of health care. They must create a health care product, pitch it and market it to other students. Though the workload is more advanced than standard high school work, the classes are popular. This year, 150 students applied for 60 slots.

“We’re looking at what the community needs,” Bloom said. “There are needs for more medical office assisting and physical therapy aides. We don’t want to leave them half-trained. In the beginning of the year, you have students who have never had to stand up in front of class. I tell them they have to convince people they have to do things they really don’t want to do. We talk a lot about how to deal with people.”

It’s also sinking in with many students that the health care field is a solid career path. Studies have long eyed the shortages as an impending crisis. The first wave of 78 million baby boomers will be 65 by 2011, and all baby boomers will be over age 65 by 2030.

That’s an added bonus for Kylee Osborn, a senior at Grand Junction High School.

“That’s like the most rewarding thing,” said Osborn, a Medical Prep II student.

“It’s good to know we’re not going to go to school for years and be laid off.”


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