Professionals help health career students to develop

HARLINGEN — Montrell Johnson has never forgotten the presentation delivered by a neurosurgeon last year.

Montrell, a freshman at the Harlingen School of Health Professions, hadn’t yet decided what field of medicine he wanted to pursue. Dr. Michael Rabin’s presentation last year about his work as a brain surgeon settled that question.

“He inspired me to accept my goal,” said Montrell, 14. “When I grow up, I want to be a neurosurgeon as well.”

Rabin, of Chicago, is one of many physicians who have given presentations each Thursday since the $13.9 million school opened in 2014 at 2302 N. 21 St. Presentations by physicians about their specialty have helped students, administrators and teachers remain aware of the realities of the medical professions.

A 13-member HSHP Advisory Committee has worked with the school since its inception to help develop the school’s curriculum for the Harlingen school district. The Advisory Committee includes Dr. Frank Fernandez, founding dean of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine. Manny Vela, president and CEO of Valley Baptist Health System, also sits on the committee.

An example of the involvement of the committee and other local health professionals is the creation of the specialty rooms. Those rooms include the Surgical Procedures room, the Patient Care room and the Dental Science Room.

“We brought in experts from the field who are practicing sports medicine and people from the dental community,” said Veronica Kortan, administrator of organizational development. “We brought those doctors to the table to help us create specialty classrooms that are very much aligned to what our students will hopefully practice one day.”

The Advisory Committee meets officially each spring and fall, Kortan said. However, the school and the district have regular contact with the members.

Principal Tina Garza said the committee is serving in a guidance-type advisory role to make sure the school is aligned with the doctors’ specific area of expertise.

“They ensure that we are aligning our experiences in the classroom with establishing the foundation that the students need in their particular school of study,” Garza said.

An ongoing dialogue with the committee is an important part of the school’s development, Kortan said.

“It’s important to capitalize on the fact that the Advisory Committee really is a part of the guidance piece with the school,” Kortan said. “While they’re still doing guidance on a particular strand or a particular school of study, it’s really about looking at providing our students with opportunities that are going to prepare them for the career of their choice.”

Committee members like Dr. Nolan Perez, who also is president of the school board, are so devoted they also have given presentations. Perez, medical community liaison for the Advisory Committee, gave the students a presentation about his area of expertise, gastroenterology. This field of medicine deals with disorders of the stomach and intestines.

In his presentation, he showed students pictures of an endoscopy, a procedure in which tubes and a camera photograph a person’s digestive tract. Students were invited to view and even handle the scopes and cameras he uses for his procedures. The students impressed him with their interest and questions.

He definitely captured their attention. Daniela Ramos, 15, said Perez was very thorough in his presentation.

“He was showing some videos, pictures of surgeries,” said Daniela, who is thinking of becoming a general surgeon. She appreciated the opportunity to handle surgical instruments.

“It gave us a little bit of insight into the tools used in the surgical room nowadays,” she said. She laughed and then added, “It interested me more than the others because it had to do with surgery. I’m all blood and guts and it got my attention.”

The involvement of physicians both on the advisory committee and from the rest of the community have given students — and are giving them — a greater understanding of the medical professions. These experiences will empower them to make more informed decisions about their future.