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Posted: June 30, 2010 12:30 a.m.

High schoolers gain hands-on training with SCRUBS program

Brittany Thomas/

This week, junior and seniors in high school began a three-week Newton Medical junior volunteer program that enables students to explore their interests in the medical field.

Martha Taylor, director of Newton Medical Center Volunteer Services, started the SCRUBS program to engage student volunteers in an educational format. Junior volunteer programs have existed at Newton Medical for decades, but volunteers were simply assigned to a department and performed duties like cleaning sheets, running errands and helping with paperwork.

"We feel that it’s important to have students understand what the medical field is about. If they are interested in that, we want to help encourage them to get in that field," Taylor said.

Students who join the program already have a high interest in the medical field, many citing their interest in areas such as pediatrics, neonatal nursing, neurology, registered nursing, orthopedics, etc.

The program receives 90 to 100 applicants each year. Students are required to complete an application, along with references from family and friends and academic recommendations from guidance counselors. Students are required to maintain a B average. Parents would then accompany their child to the interview process, where the student will be evaluated based on their communication skills and maturity level. Sixty students will eventually make the cut.

"Maturity levels are important because we have to be able to rely on the students to know what appropriate behavior is. We don’t monitor them every minute, so they have to be able to function independently," Taylor said.

Students are divided into two groups: the freshmen and sophomores, who attend the program for one week, and juniors and seniors, who attend for three weeks. Heavy patient care units are reserved for the older group.

"It’s the summer, and a lot of students are busy with work, camps, sports and band," Taylor explains. "It really required us to take a look at what we expected out of these students. That’s why I shortened the time to two three-week sessions and two one-week sessions. Students then have a choice if they want to come for the first or second session."

First time participants of the program are assigned to a department at Newton Medical Center. The ones who return the following year may be given a choice of department they preferred. However, each department only has space for one student, so choices will be limited. Students will remain in their assigned department for the duration of the program. Some of the most popular choices students prefer are in intensely active areas, like the emergency room, birth care center and physical therapy.

"I was in the program last year and it was really fun, so I wanted to come back and continue learning," Robert Hight, a student aspiring to be a neurosurgeon, said. "I found out about this program through my counselor. I told her about my interest and she looked through my grades and told me it would be neat for me to try this program. And my older sister was in the program a long time ago, so I thought it would be a lot of fun. And it really is."

Students get to participate in a number of activities that provide them with basic knowledge in health care, like learning about poisonous snakes and their dangers, how to prepare nutritious snacks and the capacity of their lungs. They also receive CPR certifications. They also give lessons on interviewing skills in regards to the medical arena.

One of the more notable activity is what Taylor calls the "Bed, Bath and Beyond" activity. Students are taught to properly administer injections, read blood pressure levels, change and fold sheets (with students acting as patients on the bed) and to dress safely in scrubs and gloves.

Students actively take part in these exercises, asking many questions. Pamela Brown, a licensed practical nurse of 20 years, is especially impressed with the students that participate in the program.

"They are very good students. So receptive and attentive — and that’s the best part, that they pay attention," Brown said. "I enjoyed having them."

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