Oakmont students explore medical careers

Health Careers Academy only one of its kind in Placer County
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Within the first two weeks of her internship, Leah Verceles already knew she enjoyed the fast-paced energy - and stress - of an emergency room.

"I've seen a few trauma patients," Verceles said. "I went to the morgue for the first time. I take vitals, I do transfers."

The Oakmont High School senior interns in the emergency room at Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Carmichael, fulfilling a requirement for her school's Health Careers Academy. The program is the only one of its kind in Placer County and prepares teenagers for a profession in the health care industry.

By the end of the three-year program, students have spent time in emergency rooms and various medical departments through partnerships with Mercy San Juan, Kaiser Roseville Medical Center and Sutter Roseville Medical Center.

Senior Dana Provencher has a physical therapy internship.

"I see all different people and injuries and the different techniques they use to help people," she said.

Senior Jeremy Skinner is gaining experience in a pediatric intensive care unit and plans to pursue a career in pediatrics.

"It's a door opener," Skinner said. "You get different opportunities you wouldn't get at a regular high school."

The program began in 1996 and coordinator Wes Muller has run the academy since 2003. This year, 95 freshmen applied for 70 open spots in the academy. There are currently 165 students in the program and five teachers.

Oakmont's program gets funding through the California Department of Education's California Partnership Academies program, which requires internships and job shadowing.

Students also take social studies, science and language arts courses taught with a health focus. For instance, in U.S. government class, students learn about health care laws, policies and different countries' systems.

Juniors take a clinical labs class where they learn how to take vitals, such as pulse and blood pressure, and transfer patients from a hospital bed to a walker or wheelchair. On a recent morning, Callie Forsythe practiced taking the blood pressure of student Brittney Blake.

"It can be difficult, but it can be rewarding when you get it done," Forsythe said.

Junior Sean Kim said he's enjoyed his experience in the academy.

 "Not a lot of high schools have this (program)," Kim said. "It's really unique. Where else can you go in a hospital when you're in high school?"

Juniors also job shadow at three local hospitals once a week going from department to department, which includes occupational therapy, neonatal intensive care unit, radiology and more.

Muller said this rotation shapes the students' interests throughout the year as they begin to fine tune a career to pursue in the future.

"That's the whole point of the program," he said.

Some students choose not to stay in health care, he said. Those who do already have an idea on how to obtain their dream job. As sophomores, they research careers, learning about the job description, salary and education needed.

Sophomore Curtis Reid Olsen focused on neurosurgery because of his fascination with the complexity of the brain. He "loves learning all about the synapses and nerves."

"The academy helps so much and gets you out there," Olsen said. "You leave high school with hours of time in the hospital before we go to college. And we can make an educated decision about whether we want to pursue a health career."

Sena Christian can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.