PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — From the classroom to a hospital room, students at West Boca Raton Community High School are putting on their scrubs to get hands-on experience in the Medical Sciences program.
Their rotations in the hospital were on pause during the COVID-19 pandemic, but now the program is back to its full potential.
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Inside the West Boca Medical Center emergency room, it's just another day of high school for a group of West Boca medical academy students.
"Just being here and seeing everyone’s reactions and everything, it’s amazing," student Joshua Conde said.
It's part of their classwork, their clinical rotation day, the one they look forward to all week.
"You learn a lot just by listening and observing everything going on," student Ariadna Uzcategui said. "Because when you are in the class, it’s not like you know how everything is done. But once you are here, you can understand step-by-step what they do, how it’s done, how patients should be treated."
Learning from those on the front lines is a critical part of the medical academy.
Jacqueline Bryer knows it all too well. She went through the academy program at West Boca Raton Community High School and now works as a patient care tech in the hospital.
"It's so full circle. It’s amazing," Bryer said. "I try to help them as much as I can when I'm a tech. I try to teach them as much as I can, because I remember being in their spot, being nervous, trying to go up to an adult and say, 'hey, can I shadow you? Can I help with anything?'"
Bryer is a prime example of the program's goal: expose students to the medical field so they come back to our community as health care workers.
"It completely changed my life. I’m so thankful to Stephanie Stiepleman," Bryer said.
Stiepleman leads the program as its clinical director and department chair.
"We are at a very critical time in health care," Stiepleman said. "Between the changes in Washington and COVID, we’ve seen a lot of people retire and come out of that nursing program. So now we are really important to be able to feed into those programs."
Stiepleman calls the time inside these hospital rooms invaluable.
"They all come to our program wanting to be doctors or nurses from what they see on TV," Stiepleman said. "Here gives them the reality of what it really is, what it means to be a nurse. They actually get to see somebody holding someone’s hand while they are going through the worst day of their life. They get to see the reality of what it is to do bedside care."
"I was thinking, at first, to be a nurse. But now I'm trying to change my mind a little and I might go to be a [physician's assistant]," Uzcategui said.
Putting these teenagers one step ahead in preparing for their futures.
"It really is heartwarming to think we’ve made an incredible difference in their lives," Stiepleman said.
At least 14 Palm Beach County high schools have medical academy programs.
The deadline to apply to these and other Choice and Career Programs for next school year is Jan. 27. For more information, click here.