Watching a surgery or sanitizing instruments for a dentist can be all in a day’s work for a high school student enrolled in the Medical Careers Program at Clovis East High School.
The innovative, hands-on Regional Occupational Program class is now in its second year, led by Dr. Kelly Eichmann, a registered dietitian of 17 years. There are 57 students enrolled from Clovis and Clovis East High Schools, who are finding the program to be an invaluable step in deciding whether to pursue a career in the medical/health field.
“My goal with the class is to expose and inspire students to consider the allied health field or some medical field. The major ones are nursing, doctors of course. But there are so many others that students are not exposed to until well into their college program,” Eichmann said during an open house last week. “What we are here to do is set students out on a path and let students be exposed to the medical field and just try it. They’re going to know fairly quickly, within a few weeks, that this is for me or this is not for me.”
The junior and senior students spend three days a week in Eichmann’s classroom where an overview of the medical and health professions are discussed. Then they visit real-world classrooms twice a week working, volunteering and observing at numerous local medical facilities.
“Many of our students have volunteered more than 100 hours this year; some well over 200 hours,” Eichmann said. “We’re giving them an opportunity to work side by side with dentists, chiropractors, physical therapists, the pharmacy school, of course nursing, cardiologists.”
Those real-life classrooms include Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, Golden Living, Carmel Village, Dr. Klassen, DDS; Dr. Winer, DDS; Dr. Pocasangre, DDS; and Dr. Kawano, DDS, Scott Mooneyham Physical Therapist, Cardiovascular Consultants (CVC) Heart Center, Smith Chiropractic, Preferred Chiropractic and Sierra Vista Children’s Health Clinic.
Selena Xiong, a senior at Clovis High, said the medical careers program has empowered and inspired her to go to college in Loma Vista to become a dentist.
“I enrolled in this program because ever since I was little, I knew I wanted to be a part of the working medical field,” she said. “I have encountered a lot of amazing experiences working with the dentist office where I have been placed. For example, being able to receive hands-on experience and to interact with the patients on a daily basis is something memorable that has provided me with knowledge to assist me in pursuing my career.”
Brigette Elliott, senior at Clovis High, also wants to become a dentist.
“A year ago, there was no way that I would have known the difference between an explorer and a football bur, or how to pour stone for impressions or how to sterilize all the instruments so they can be used again,” she explained. “I didn’t know what scaling was a year ago and I hardly knew how crowns worked. It’s working with real people who have needs with their teeth. It’s neat because even though a lot of people don’t particularly like going to the dentist, fixed teeth make someone happier – and it shows in the smile on their face.
Even if dentistry isn’t what I’m doing forever, working at a dentist’s office also helped with my work ethic and my shyness. I feel much more outgoing, and more able to handle multiple tasks at once. This ROP program can show what it’s really like to be working at a specific medical job, and all the pros and cons of the job.”
Students also work alongside Clovis Unified employees, including school nurses, physical therapist Melissa Olson, speech therapists Laura Brown and Terri McKee and occupational therapist Beth Schneider.
“Clovis Unified can really grow their own,” Eichmann said. “...These students are future Clovis Unified speech therapists.”
Students also visited California Health Science University in Clovis where they worked directly with pharmacists and professors on a hands-on emulsion lab.
“Being able to go out into the community and see a cardiologist, a physical therapist, a dentist, a speech therapist, a nurse and so many more at work is such an eye-opening experience,” said Clovis East junior Brianna Anderson.“Community classroom allows students to go out into the real world and see what these professionals do every day, not just read it in a textbook.”
The program has become very popular as current students talk about their experiences with underclassmen, Eichmann said.
“Next year I have an over-full class; I have 84 students signed up,” Eichmann said. “We do have to keep a reasonable number so I can manage them well.”
The program has also lead to job opportunities.
“I just found out one of the dentists is going to extend a job offer to one of the students, so that’ll make eight students hired out of the program. That is amazing,” Eichmann said.
The program wouldn’t be successful without the opportunities given by local health professionals, Eichmann said.
“Building those partnerships with the community is vital to our program,” she said. “We’re trying to spread the word and let other partners know that there’s opportunity here.”