Photo by Jon Anderson.
Muhammed Jan and Marisa Gray, two 2014 Spain Park High School graduates who were part of the school’s Health Science Academy, check out the new $60,000 mannequin that can simulate a variety of body functions.
Marisa Gray knew as a young child she wanted to work in the medical field someday, but she didn’t know exactly the type of job she wanted to pursue.
With help from the Health Science Academy at Hoover’s Spain Park High School, Gray is now well on her way to a career in nursing. During her senior year at Spain Park two years ago, she was able to job-shadow a nurse anesthetist, and now she’s studying nursing at Jefferson State Community College.
The Health Science Academy helped Gray discover what she wanted to do and gave her skills to get started along the path, she said.
Gray was one of three students who recently shared their experiences at the academy with members of the medical community who visited Spain Park to see what the academy has to offer.
The Health Science Academy at Spain Park focuses on nursing, patient care, emergency medicine, sports medicine and pharmacology. It is one of many career academies at the school.
By the end of their senior year, students have the opportunity to become certified as a patient care technician or a nurse assistant, said Jason Zajac, the academy director. For those interested in emergency medicine, they’re able to take a dual enrollment course at the Jefferson State campus next door and take the certification test for basic emergency medical technicians.
There is the potential to prepare students for other certification tests, such as those for pharmacy technicians and veterinary technicians, Zajac said.
“It’s a great opportunity for the kids,” Zajac said. “They get a chance to have, at 18, certification that makes them employable right off the bat.”
Twenty-three Spain Park students are on schedule to take the nursing assistant or patient care technician exam in April, said Wendy Kendrick, a certified nurse with a doctorate in education who joined the Health Sciences Academy team this year.
The same course would cost $900 to $1,000 at a college, but at Spain Park, it’s part of their free public education, and the state pays for the book and the $150 certification test, said Kendrick, who formerly taught nursing at Samford University.
When the Health Science Academy began at Spain Park in 2011, it had 46 students, according to Zajac. Now in its fifth year, there are 220 students in the program, he said.
The program began with one classroom and one practice mannequin, but it has expanded to several more rooms, including a mock emergency room, patient exam rooms, nursing station and a pharmacy lab. A $227,000 state grant helped them add additional equipment: four high-tech simulation mannequins, a CPR training mannequin and a standard baby mannequin.
One mannequin costs $60,000, and students can do virtually anything with it they could do with a real patient, Zajac said.
The mannequin simulates breathing and has heart sounds, lung sounds and a pulse in multiple locations. It can cough and talk to you to tell you if it is hurting. It even produces simulated urine, Zajac said.
An instructor in another room controls the mannequin and can watch to see if the student asks appropriate questions while assessing the kind of care given. Video cameras capture the simulated patient encounters, and the students can review the footage to see how they performed, Zajac said.
“A lot of universities don’t have a setup this nice,” he said.
Dr. Bill Christenberry of the Caldwell Mill Animal Clinic said it’s amazing to see what the Health Sciences Academy is doing to prepare students for career decisions ahead of them.
“They can go ahead and have this under their belt and understand what they’re dealing with,” he said.
Christenberry already has been working with Spain Park. Four students came to his office to see what veterinary medicine is all about, and he helped prepare some students for the veterinary portion of the state competition for future health professionals.
Spain Park first participated in the state competition two years ago and had nine students qualify to go to the national competition in Orlando, Zajac said. Last year, 19 students qualified for the national competition in Anaheim, California, and one of them placed sixth in the nation in the physical therapy competition, he said.
Zajac said he hopes to continue strengthening partnerships between the academy and the medical community and look for more job-shadowing opportunities for students.
Avi Vaidya, a senior at Spain Park this year, said he took the pharmacology course last year as a junior. He is now registered as a pharmacy technician in Alabama and waiting to take his certification test when he turns 18, he said.
He likes that his instructors have real-world experience, he said.
“They kind of know what they’re talking about,” he said.