High school club inspires future nurses

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BRATTLEBORO — As anyone scanning employment ads can see, the nursing profession in Vermont is facing critical shortages.

The Windham Regional Career Center (WRCC) is helping students prepare to enter the field: it offers a Licensed Nursing

Assistant (LNA) course, approved by the Vermont State Board of Nursing.

Students who complete the course can take the state licensing exam, and may be able to earn their license before they graduate from high school, entering the work force with skills and qualifications that are in high demand.

Ashlynn Whaley and her twin sister Ana, seniors at Brattleboro Union High School, went beyond course work to found a school chapter of Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA), a club for students interested in science, math, technology, and the health field.

Ashlynn explained that while HOSA is a nationwide student organization, the local chapter is the first in Vermont. She was the historian of her chapter in Florida before moving to Vermont.

"Honestly, it was the hardest thing for me to leave in Florida," she recalled. "When I got here and found that I wasn't able to participate in any HOSA chapter, I was encouraged to start my own because I didn't want to let it go."

Dan Braden, who teaches science at BUHS, agreed to be the faculty advisor for the club, which is open to all BUHS and WRCC students.

"Basically it's a club designed to prepare students for occupations in health science," Ashlynn continued. "It's also a CTSO — Career and Technical Student Occupations — affiliate." She added that Future Business Leaders of America, an active club at the WRCC, is also an affiliate.

She said the BUHS chapter of HOSA has about 25 active members.

"We meet once a month for meetings," she added. "It's also a place where, if students aren't sure what they want to do in medicine, but are interested, they can build interest and get info about a career."

Competitions among club chapters are an important element of HOSA.

"The biggest piece of HOSA is competition," Ashlynn said. "We have 41 different competitive events. We would be competing against schools in New Hampshire."

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She said all the competitions are related to the medical field. During her freshman year in Florida, she took first place in a forensic-medicine competition.

"We first took a 55-question multiple-choice knowledge test, and once me and my partner had the required scores to advance further, we were given a case study in which we were given 30 minutes to look at it and take notes on it, and then 5 minutes to compose a final assessment of time of death, cause of death, and immediate cause of death in as much detail as we could," she recalled. "I believe it was asphyxiation due to neck trauma."

Ana noted that HOSA offers opportunities for shadowing medical professionals and field trips. The twins were impressed by a tour of the Vermont Technical College facility in downtown Brattleboro.

"We toured their skills lab, which is basically robotic patients. These robotic patients are able to function in almost all the exact same ways a human patient would," Ashlynn explained. "They can receive intravenous medication to relieve symptoms; they can have heart failure, forcing nurses to perform CPR, and they respond. They have an evident respiratory rate — you can see the patient's chest rising. Faculty have the opportunity to control those patients — they sit behind a one-way mirror and they can make the patient go into cardiac arrest; the patient can show signs of jaundice in their eyes. Now nurses are given the opportunity to work on patients without having to worry about making intense mistakes. It also is good education because nurses who are practicing on real patients might not encounter a heart attack as often as they can in a robotic patient; they can gain experience in all areas of nursing."

A variety of courses can help prepare students to enter the medical field. Ashlynn, who comes to BUHS after attending school in Florida and at The Putney School, has taken a number of courses related to health occupations — Human Body Systems, Principles of Biomedical Science, Medical Interventions — and is currently taking Emergency Medical Services and Fire Protective Services at the WRCC. Ana has taken chemistry and biology courses at BUHS as well as Human Body Systems and Medical Interventions at the WRCC.

Ashlynn is planning to use her skills immediately after graduating.

"In Florida I am a part of a medical team that is sponsored by a church," she said. "Part of their outreach is traveling overseas and assisting medically. There's a possible trip to Athens, Greece to work in the refugee camps. I plan to spend most of my time focusing on that medical outreach team in Florida, offering free healthcare clinics. I would like to get a paramedic certification."

Ana is considering the veterinary field — after college. She plans to attend Southeastern University, a small university in Florida.

"I have been looking at requirements for becoming a vet tech," she said. "My interest is animal sciences more than human medical science.

"There's a place in Florida called Southeastern Guide Dogs, to train service dogs," she continued. "I'm looking into possibly getting a job there, and eventually being the person that breeds and trains the dogs and evaluating whether they're capable of being guide dogs."

She had advice for younger students.

"Don't worry about your dreams being attainable," she said. "Just do it — just dream.

"That's been a huge struggle of mine. I've always said, 'Hey, you probably can't do that even if you love it — but you can if you try.'"


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