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Health care science classes guide students to nursing, medical schools
West Hall Middle School eighth-graders from left, Tania Quintero, 13, Blanca Castillo, 13, Brenda Castillo, 13, and Karen Hernandez, 13, perform chest compressions on dummies Wednesday during an introductory health care science class. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

For all parents hoping their little ones grow up to be doctors, you’ll be glad to know some middle schools are helping kids get a head start in the medical field.

West Hall and Chestatee middle schools began their new health care science programs this school year. The middle school health care classes now augment Hall and Chestatee high schools’ existing programs.

The classes give students hands-on experience in CPR and first aid while teaching them about the array of occupations in the health care field. Students also learn that nurses and doctors need assistants who earn great salaries but don’t require years of education after high school graduation.

That’s good news for anyone who is sick. There’s a serious need for more health care professionals in Georgia.

West Hall Middle School Principal Sarah Justus said eighth-graders can receive high school credit for the yearlong class, which can be applied to a nurse’s assistant certification students can earn by high school graduation.

"What does it mean for them? First off, it means employment right away," Justus said of the certification. "Secondly, they may pursue the next level of degree, which is a licensed practical nurse. And then some of those students will probably continue on to become a registered nurse or a nurse practitioner."

At the two middle schools, all students will be able to participate in the nine-week class while eighth-graders are eligible for the one-year program.

The health care science program also began at Lanier Charter Career Academy this year.

Justus said the class is popular with students, and gives them an idea of what it really means to be a medical professional.

"I have always believed that early on, our students need to be looking down the road to what do you want to do with your life? How do you want to serve? We talk a lot about service. What are you going to give back? Is it going to be through your job? Will it be through volunteering?"

That’s why West Hall eighth-grader and health care science student Lydia Skolrood, 13, wants to be a doctor.

"Ever since I was really little I always wanted to be a doctor. When I was little my mom would buy me baby dolls and I would practice taking care of them," she said. "I think (this class) will help me get a head start so I won’t be super scared when I start class in college."

Educators encourage students with an interest in medicine to pursue a career in a field that is starving for trained professionals.

"In our economy, that still is one of the fastest growing areas of the job market. It’s still a very viable part of our economy, and our students are aware of that," Justus said. "... Now we have a program that can encourage that interest, motivate students and give them the opportunity for real hands-on work."

West Hall Middle eighth-grader Haleigh Randazzo, 13, is excited about the program.

"I love this class," she said. "I want to study to be a general surgeon so this class is helping me get started."

West Hall Middle eighth-grader Chandler Newton, 14, doesn’t have his sights set on being a doctor, but the class has at least planted a seed for a possible future in medicine.

"If I don’t have a career in sports, I definitely might think about it," he said. "If I hadn’t taken this class, I wouldn’t even have considered it."

Karen Blakeley, who was the registered nurse at West Hall Middle for five years, stepped in this August to lead the middle school program. She also brings her 30 years of experience in various parts of a hospital and a medical law firm to the classroom.

"We have some great kids who are showing some interest, so hopefully we can continue to direct them to that area," she said.

Debbie King, who teaches West Hall High’s health care science program, said the middle school programs are key in reducing the waiting list for her introductory class. She said that in her four years with the class, many of her students have developed a passion for medicine and graduate with plans to become nurses or doctors.

"That’s my favorite part of the job, to see where they’re going, because they keep in touch," King said. "... A lot of them go to Brenau or North Georgia (College & State University) for nursing."

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