Hands-on expo gives Iowa high school students glimpse into EMS industry

The Health Careers Expo gave students hands-on experiences including taking part in simulation activities, such as reviving a heart attack patient


By Michaele Niehaus
The Hawk Eye

MOUNT PLEASANT, Iowa — Juniors and seniors from nine area high schools interested in health care careers were able to explore their options Thursday during the Health Careers Expo at Southeastern Community College.

This year's event differed from previous years. The expo typically took place in SCC's gymnasium, where area healthcare professionals set up tables and booths containing displays, information and demonstrations for students. This year, however, was more hands-on, with students taking part in simulation activities, such as reviving a heart attack patient, in the Health Professions Center. They also were given an opportunity to tour the newly complete Hall of Sciences and see a ZSpace computer demonstration.

Before visiting the Health Sciences Complex, however, students gathered in a lecture hall in the 100 Building to hear from keynote speaker Paula Willoughby Dejesus, an emergency medical specialist at Great River Medical Center, SCC alumna and Keokuk High School graduate.

As a high school student, Dejesus's guidance counselor told her she would be better off going to college to be a beautician than to study medicine. Dejesus went on to get her nursing degree from SCC before graduating from the Des Moines College of Osteopathic Medicine. She went on to become the EMS Medical Director for the city of Chicago before coming to GRMC.

"(Healthcare) can take you tons of places," Dejesus said, explaining the wide range of professionals with whom she works on a daily basis.

She then asked how many students like technology, to which most in the room raised their hands.

"We need expert healthcare people in technology, because otherwise, we end up with an electronic medical record built by some techno-somebody that's never ever touched a patient. And then the practical implications and applications of that little hunk of technology becomes almost an obstacle to healthcare," she explained.

Not a single student raised their hand when Dejesus asked who had an interest in politics, which she explained is another important field for healthcare professionals to be involved in as they are best equipped to advocate for legislation relating to healthcare.

She went on to explain how a background in healthcare can be combined with other professions, such as law and teaching, before leaving students with one last piece of advice: "Don't ever say no to yourself."

Students then broke into groups to rotate through each of six 20-minute sessions—EMS, Medical Assistant, Nursing, Respiratory Therapy, Biomedical and Sim Lab—where instructors and healthcare professionals told students about their respective program's curriculum and what careers in those fields are like. They also guided them through simulations.

In the Sim Lab, simulation technician Donald Aliprandi used a temporarily broken manikin to share with students the importance of careers in biomedical technology before introducing them to the rest of the Sim Family.

Across the hallway, paramedic instructor Jim Steffen walked a group of students through the process of reviving a heart attack victim. Zaeleigh Smith, 17, a senior at Mount Pleasant High School, was tasked with readying a defibrillator to deliver a life-saving shock to an armless and legless manikin that suffered a heart attack.

Smith, who already has completed the CNA program, plans to enroll in SCC's EMT program next year.

"It's a lot more high-tech than other colleges," said Smith, who also has visited Kirkwood Community College, the University of Iowa and Iowa Wesleyan University.

Another student was tasked with injecting water, meant to simulate epinephrine, into a bone, which can be used as a route for vascular access in cases where a patient's circulation is poor.

Steffen told the group of students his classes spend 75 percent of their time in the lab and are encouraged to make mistakes.

"We can bring the Sim Family over here—Sim Mom, Sim Dad, Sim Baby, Sim Junior—we can bring them over here into a realistic lab where our paramedic students repeatedly try their best to kill them," Steffen said. "It's just what we do. We learn by failing. You never learn anything by doing things perfectly every time. You learn by screwing up, learning from that and doing it better next time."

He also prepared them for what a career as an EMT would entail.

"We save about 20 percent of the people who we get called for, which isn't very good, but when you consider the fact that the brain dies without oxygen in six minutes and only good quality CPR will keep the brain alive longer than that, that's not horribly bad," he said.

The simulation made an impression on Shuyu Xian, 17, a senior at West Burlington High School who is taking the Health Professions class at Burlington High School. Xian long has planned on a career as a pharmacist, but the experience opened her eyes to other possibilities.

"I'm kind of thinking about EMT now," she said.

Copyright 2018 The Hawk Eye

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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