Real life experience: Younger high schoolers have hands-on opportunities

OLMITO — Victor Cuellar had two choices.

The junior at the South Texas Academy for Medical Professions could sit in class and study. Or, he could join his classmates for some real life experience tending patients at a local medical facility.

Victor, 17, chose the latter.

“I just wanted more experience in the field,” he said. “I wanted to go off site and spend more time with people.”

This is the first year juniors at the Medical Academy have worked with health care professionals to gain real life experience. They all seemed pretty psyched about the experience — they’ll be doing it once a week — and it all started with a phone call.

“Sunshine Haven approached us to see if we could have our students go out there and help them for volunteer hours,” said Hanani Vasquez, health science instructor. Among her other responsibilities, she works closely with the juniors going out in the field.

Sunshine Haven, Inc., is an end of life care facility which relies heavily on volunteers.

The Medical Academy is part of the South Texas Independent School District, a system of six magnet schools which serve Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties.

Vasquez thought volunteering at Sunshine Haven would provide a good opportunity for juniors in the “Practicum in Health Science” class. She said 108 students are participating in the off-site clinicals. The school plans to continue the program for juniors each year, laying the groundwork for more specialized clinicals when they become seniors.

“They learn how to interact with patients,” Vasquez said. “They learn how to talk to them, how to answer them.”

When students become seniors, they shadow medical professionals in hospitals, labs and other health care facilities. Vasquez said experience in their junior years will help them overcome any apprehension about touching the patients.

Helping patients with so many needs can seem a little daunting.

“I was nervous,” said Magnolia Cruz, 17. “The patients, you could obviously tell they were very frail.”

The experience made her more devoted to caring for patients.

Amanda Figueroa, 16, also seemed endeared by the experience.

“I went there in the morning and I got to feed them,” she said. “One was too weak. I got to help bathe one of them.”

As Vasquez said, talking to patients in a specific manner is a crucial part of medical care. The students had plenty of opportunities to practice those skills.

“We had fun talking to the patients,” said Dante De Leon, 17. “We got to know them. We gave them comfort.”

The young students seemed remarkably composed about the patients being near death.

“I tried to put my emotions aside and give the patient the best care possible,” Amanda said.

All the students felt the patients were happy to see them.

“They seemed happy,” Magnolia said. “One patient sat up when I was feeding her. She had all her food.”

Simple pleasures can make all the difference in the world for the sick and dying. The young juniors with their joyous health and energy seem to have become moments of light and laughter.