Oakmont High hosts hundreds for health career forum

Mental health, hands-on workshops part of second year running
By: Mackenzie Myers, Reporter
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For most students at Oakmont High School, Oct. 11 was a day off. But for about 25 students in the Oakmont Health Careers Academy, months of planning culminated in 250 students from Placer and Sacramento counties visiting the Roseville campus for the Next Generation Health Forum.

The five-hour forum meant exploring medical careers through speaker sessions and hands-on workshops with over two dozen healthcare professionals. Students also heard from keynote speaker Hakeem Rahim, a mental health advocate who has testified before Congress and spoke about his experiences with bipolar disorder.

Terri Griffin, career specialist with the Placer County Office of Education, said this year’s forum added a mental health aspect in an attempt to open conversations about the topic.

“An estimated 20 percent of high schoolers in California have mental illness,” Griffin told the students at the forum. “It could be the person next to you. It could be your best friend and you might not even know it.”

In addition to sessions about physical health, students learned about subjects like depression, stress management and emotional learning. Psychology departments from Sacramento State University and William Jessup University presented at the forum.

During the morning, students attended three speaking sessions by medical experts talking about their careers and the paths they took to get there. In the afternoon, students chose two hands-on workshops, where they learned to take blood pressure, read a heart monitor, listen with a stethoscope and practice other skills.

Lincoln High School science teacher Amanda Retallack brought 15 of her biomedical sciences students to the forum. As an instructor, she said it was helpful to have the medical professionals in one place, as opposed to trying to get them to visit Lincoln High.

All of Retallack’s students at the forum were part of the school’s biomedical pathway program, which has been at the school for four years.

“The pathway is still growing, so while I wouldn’t say there’s a lack of resources available to the students, it is a small group,” Retallack said. “It’s getting better and better, and stuff like this helps. This exposure is huge.”

Retallack said Lincoln High came to the forum last year and that her students were interested in the hands-on workshops, especially the one for respiratory therapy.

Lincoln High junior Mackenzie Eutsey found herself drawn toward anesthesiology, kinesiology and emergency medicine, though she already harbored an interest in physical therapy.

“I grew up around sports and injuries, so physical therapy is on my mind because I can relate to that,” Eutsey said. “I’ve always had an interest in healing. Your body can heal itself — how cool is that?”

For Eutsey, the sessions she attended demonstrated that medical careers do not always have a straightforward or obvious path and that careers are often nuanced. For example, she learned the differences between an anesthesiologist and an anesthesiology nurse.

According to Griffin, the forum was originally put together after her department visited schools in the county and saw that students interested in medical careers weren’t sure where to start. She found students in rural areas of the county especially lacked pathways to these fields.

But now students themselves can have a say in what they wish to learn. Oakmont senior Jason Ngo said during the planning phase Griffin listens to which subjects the students would like to see covered and contacts relevant professionals.

“She makes it sound like it’s all us, but she has all the resources,” Oakmont senior Trisha Saberian said. Saberian, with Ngo and other peers, helped plan this year’s forum.

This was Oakmont’s second year hosting the forum, according to coordinator Wes Muller, who also runs the school’s Health Careers Academy. He said students in the academy and students who help plan various aspects of the forum pick up not only knowledge of medical skills, but wider career skills like planning and organization.

And for those students who try a workshop and find something they don’t like? That’s helpful, too.

“It’s all about investigation,” Muller said.