Michelle Santos-Adames has always loved science. But the periodic table of elements and the laws of physics never inspired her. Instead it was an anatomy class the Canyon High School (CHS) senior took last year that clicked. Medical science – the kind of stuff her mom did years ago as a combat medic in the Army – resonated with Michelle and now has her thinking about a future in the medical field.
Thanks to the Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs available to students at Comal ISD schools, Michelle is already ahead of the curve when it comes to college and career choices. That anatomy class piqued her interest, but the Health Science curriculum at CHS put her wheels in motion. When Michelle completes the program, she can be tested and certified as a medical assistant and go to work in a clinic or head to college to become a nurse, a doctor, a pharmacist and more.
“The program gives me that extra step ahead of everyone else,” Michelle says. “Others are trying to figure out what they want to do when they’re in college. I’ve already figured out what I want to do here in high school.”
More Than Just a Vocation
The old “vocational” education many may recall from years ago has evolved today into a multi-faceted, modern curriculum that provides students with the technical knowledge and real-world skills they need to get started in a current or emerging profession. The district has as many as 16 CTE career clusters that students can test drive before they leave their high school campus.
Many of the CTE classes offered are not your typical electives. The Health Science program at CHS, for example, includes classes like Medical Terminology and Pharmacology and labs such as Phlebotomy and Clinical Rotations.
While other CTE courses may use computer simulators, table saws, and other tools of the trade, students in Health Science sharpen their skills with needles and syringes. In the Phlebotomy lab, students are required to physically “stick” themselves and their classmates with needles at least 30 times (during the semester) to simulate the drawing of blood. In the Clinical Rotations lab, students practice drug injections on fresh fruit. They also learn how to test vital signs (temperature, pulse and blood pressure) use EKGs (electrocardiograms – monitoring heart signals through electrodes), and perform other assessments typically carried out in a hospital or a doctor’s office.
“These classes help to expose them to health care and move them along a little faster,” says Jennifer Booth, a Health Science teacher and advisor at CHS. “They get to test drive it and ask, ‘Do I really like this field? Is this really what I want to go to college for?’ College is expensive. It helps if you can narrow down what you want to do. There’s not just one route.”
While the pandemic has delayed plans this year, students in advanced courses should soon embark on two-week rotations at area clinics or a hospital, shadowing nurses and talking to doctors in emergency rooms, intensive care and other units. Heart attacks, broken legs, labor and delivery and more will likely be part of the experience.
“The medical staff is really good with our students,” Booth says. “They teach them a lot and students get to see a lot. It helps them figure out what they want to do.”
Booth says these rotations also may expose students to jobs they didn’t know existed. If they’re uncomfortable with needles and blood, they may be fascinated with jobs performed by x-ray, ultrasound, and MRI technicians. Or they may find the business side of medicine – billing and administration – to be a better fit.
“I tell them, you can work in health care and not have to touch a patient,” Booth says.
Creating More Opportunities
Demand for these classes is high but opportunities for students at area clinics and hospitals is limited. For these programs to expand, more opportunities are needed.
If you’re a medical professional who has opportunities for Comal ISD students to learn and help at your hospital, clinic, dental, veterinary or other medical office, contact Jennifer Booth at Canyon High; Kevin Palmer at Smithson Valley High; or Ron Perry at Canyon Lake High.