Although some are lured by stories of the gore in the pathology lab, the chance to learn firsthand about doctors is the major reason dozens of students at Chula Vista Junior High School sign up for a special program at neighboring Scripps Memorial Hospital.
Once a month, a group of students walks next door to “shadow” professionals--pediatricians, pathologists, pharmacists, accountants--as they work, one-on-one. The 12- to 15-year-old students also are introduced to careers that do not necessarily require a college education, such as food preparation.
“They don’t think of it as a field trip, which students usually regard as a license to screw up,” said Rick Benedict, the school’s outreach adviser. “The kids are thinking of the hospital as part of the school.”
Benedict said many students who have participated in the school-hospital partnership, which began in December, are signing up to go again.
Eighth-grader Reagan Lefeber, 13, toured the radiology lab and learned X-ray techniques on her second visit to Scripps last month.
“Everybody’s talking about the trips,” she said. “The people at school who are selected to go are really excited. I was happy when I found out I could go again.
“I think it’s a really good thing the hospital is doing because a lot of people I know want to be doctors, and it’s interesting to them how the hospital works. I’d like to be an anesthesiologist or a pediatrician.” Because of the trips, many pupils have been inspired to consider a medical career, teachers said.
By adopting Chula Vista Junior High, Scripps Memorial Hospital joined a host of businesses participating in the county’s Partnership in Education program, which began in 1981.
Although the goal is to allow all the school’s students to participate, the Scripps program targets seventh- to ninth-graders who are considered to be working below their potential.
One seventh-grader, described by Benedict as “a good kid but not up to snuff,” tagged along with a pathologist last month. The student was particularly attentive when the pathologist opened a lab drawer containing a human brain and began to describe its regions.
In a welcome twist, Benedict recalled, the student was fascinated with the explanation. The beauty of what is happening, Benedict said, is that students are learning without the elements that some dread most: classes and textbooks.
First impressions sometimes focus on the glances at brains and refrigerated limbs, administrators acknowledge. But the long-lasting value, teachers and counselors said, is sparking students’ interest in one of the hospital’s many occupations--medicine, business management, office work, food preparation or nursing.
Although hospital officials at first were hesitant to allow more than a few students to visit at one time, groups of 15 now travel to the hospital once a month in lieu of their science courses.
“We figured, we’ve got this hospital next door with all these resources--we decided to get the kids involved in the community,” said Benedict, who together with a fellow counselor recommended the Scripps’ partnership to the principal, Ramon Leyba.
First Trip for Many
For some students, the trips are an opportunity to visit a hospital for the first time, at least since birth.
“We’ve had kids that have never been in a hospital before, so we hope the visits will reduce the stigma hospitals usually have,” Benedict said.
“One kid got stomach cramps. He’d never been to a hospital before--he thought it was only a place for dying people to go. It scared the hell out of him.”
The partnership goes both ways. Students in two classes are raising money--more than $200 so far--to help equip a new nursery that opened recently at the hospital. The hospital now can treat up to 10 critically ill infants that would otherwise have to be taken to Children’s Hospital or UC San Diego Medical Center.