These students didn’t shy away from asking the tough questions.
Aurora-based pediatrician Tiera Nell had just wrapped up a presentation about her daily work routine for more than 100 students at Cherry Creek High School’s Shillinglaw Lecture Center. Dr. Nell gave a detailed view of the highs and lows of her life as a physician – she spoke frankly of the daily demands of caring for young and vulnerable patients.
But these students wanted more details.
What were the specifics behind some of the most tragic and inexplicable childhood illnesses? How do you deal with breaking the worst kind of news to a parent? How do you personally deal with the weight of the responsibility that comes with your job?
It made sense that the group of sophomores, juniors and seniors assembled at Cherry Creek High School on Sept. 15 wasn’t squeamish about grilling a doctor for the unadorned truth. The class of 105 Cherry Creek and Grandview high school students had signed up for that kind of instruction when they opted in to “Educational Participation in the Community (EPIC) Medical Careers,” a semester-long class featuring guest lectures by 45 different medical professionals.
Four days a week for an entire semester, the students report to school at 6 a.m. to hear from a different representative of the medical industry. From plastic surgeons to lawyers representing the medical industry, the guest speakers assigned to the class offer a wide-ranging and in-depth view of the field in all its guises. What’s more, the students have the opportunity to take field trips to authentic medical environments and work to line up internships and shadowing opportunities with doctors and other professionals.
“It could be anyone from a technician or a physical therapist to a surgeon. We have business salesmen who represent medicine coming in and we have a lawyer who talks about medical malpractice,” said Christopher Stirrup, a math, science and career and technical education coach at Cherry Creek High. “This class can really answer the question of ‘why?’ When they see the transplant surgeon come in and talk about the different things needed for a heart to be transplanted from one person to another, the kids are able answer, ‘Why do I need to learn this in my science or math class?’
“The answer is right there in front of them,” he added.
It’s the first year the elective course has been offered at Creek, but the roots of the EPIC Medical Careers class stretch back decades, before Stirrup started teaching in the Cherry Creek School District. The lecture series developed at different high schools across the metro area, thanks in large part to the input of retired physician Dr. Pete Baker. Many of the professionals lined up for the series’ inaugural year at Cherry Creek are personal contacts of Baker, and he attends every one of the presentations.
The goal of the series has remained the same across different campuses and different districts: to give students of all backgrounds and interests a detailed view of what makes the medical profession work.
Judging from the range of students who showed up before sunrise on Sept. 15, the class at Creek was already fulfilling that mission mere weeks into the semester. The crowd included motivated students who’ve already started progress on the long road to a medical career.
“My passion is to be able to serve others, and I think medicine would be a great way to do that,” said Benson Adams, a 16-year-old junior at Cherry Creek. Adams already works in the newborn intensive care unit at Littleton Hospital. “In my heart, I know I’ll be able to make a difference; this is very inspiring.”
Adams said the lecture series has already offered valuable guidance. Nell’s presentation confirmed pediatrics as a potential future specialization; a recent presentation by a plastic surgeon convinced him the field was one he’d avoid.
Taylor Cooper, a 17-year-old senior, has already narrowed down a future field of focus. A volleyball player and musician, Cooper said she’s already started formulating plans to become a cardiothoracic surgeon. She’s committed to the University of Pennsylvania, and she’s started tentative plans for a route that will eventually take her to medical school.
So far, the elective class at Creek has only strengthened her ambitious career goals.
“I feel like it’s reaffirmed my interest in cardiothoracic surgery. We’ve had a cardiac surgeon and a cardiologist come in,” she said. “What they were talking about was so interesting to me. A lot of the other doctors and medical professionals who have come in all talk about the balance they have to have. That helped me a lot in thinking about things.
“It’s showed me what I need to do, how I need to balance my time,” she added.
The class wasn’t composed entirely of students who’ve already started mapping out their medical careers. Dhivahari Vivekanandararana, a 16-year-old junior, said she still hasn’t decided on a final future career. Even so, the input from the wide range of medical professionals has offered valuable guideposts in any future decision she’ll make.
“Even for people who aren’t interested in medicine, there’s a lot to learn from this class,” she said. “There are a lot of paths you can take – you can be a doctor, or a surgeon or a nurse … The professionals who lecture often have opportunities like internships or shadowing that can add to the experience. It’s a great way to understand the world.”
-- Posted Sept. 18, 2014