Naperville Central seniors get chance to see health care up close

Medical TV shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” might offer a window into the world of medicine and health care, but there’s nothing like seeing the real thing.

That’s exactly why Naperville Central High School has partnered with Adventist Bolingbrook Hospital. Forged in 2009, the health occupations class at the school, allows students to see first-hand what it’s like to work in a hospital.

Beginning in late January, a couple of dozen students from the high school are bused bright and early to the Bolingbrook facility where they are divided into teams of four before going on “rotations.”

“Students spend an hour here each of the two mornings, and Tuesdays, we offer them clinical observation while the Thursday session is more in the classroom,” said Chris LaFortune, a public relations specialist for Adventist Midwest Health. “The idea is to give students real-life experiences for those considering a career in the medical field.”

LaFortune said students tour various departments, ranging from pathology to actually observing surgeries.

Danielle Muhlenbeck, manager for service excellence and volunteer services, said students might see certain procedures or have specific experiences “based on whatever is happening within that department that day.”

“If there was a ‘code’ going on in the emergency department, it’s possible the department head might let the students view it,” she said. “It just depends on what is happening that day.

“We’ve had the program now for five years, and there have been students who have come back as volunteers and even some that have applied for a job here while their studies continue.”

The class was so popular this semester, enrollment was limited to just seniors.

Terri Rorer, who teaches family consumer science, confirmed that the class’s popularity forced underclassmen to be turned away this year, adding that students have to complete an introduction to health occupations class before they can enroll in the health occupations class.

“Students are actually able to get college credit for this course, which can be transferred when they leave,” she said. “The students in this program are generally some of the best in the school, and we think it’s important they get to make a real-life connection and can start college knowing more about the content of their field.”

Senior Kara Hagen, 17, said she enrolled in the program because of her interest in business and finance issues as they relate to hospitals.

“I am interested in the business side of things and want to learn more about health care and finances,” Hagen said. “So far, the health occupations class has been really fun, and it’s good to get your feet wet. We’ve been able to see a physical therapist and things in the ER and other sides of things beside nurses and doctors.”

Hagen said she has “felt more of an impact” in terms of the effect of the hospital experience and how things work compared to seeing it on TV.

“We went into a stock room that was just overflowing with equipment, which is something you’d never see on television,” she said.

MacKenzie Griffith, 18, a senior in the program, said she hopes to attend medical school. She said her grandfather was a podiatrist, and she also has a cousin who is a nurse. She is grateful to have the opportunity to have some real-life experience early.

“I’m surprised at the communication there is among the departments as I thought things we more isolated, but people here take any interest in each other even though I thought they were more separate,” Griffith said. “Some of the things that happen here you do see on TV, but there’s less drama when something occurs.”

Griffith said she wasn’t sure what area of medicine she’d like to work in someday but that her experience with newborns and their families seemed appealing.

“You see these babies and their families all together, and it’s just such a happy experience, and I think working with infants could be interesting,” she said. “If someone asked me about preparing for a future in this field, I’d say take this class, talk to doctors, look into med schools and read a lot.

“For me, it’s been good to figure out early what I wanted to do.”