In The News

High School Students Immersed in Surgery Center Experience

Most young people who are interested in becoming surgeons have only TV to give them a glimpse of a world that is normally off limits to all but clinical staff and patients. Earlier this summer, however, two Westlake High School students with a keen interest in becoming surgeons saw life in the OR up close as student interns in the Aspen Surgery Center, in affiliation with Simi Valley Hospital.

Brett Kaplan and Ashley Chang were selected for the program after a rigorous screening process that included meeting a grade point average requirement and submitting an essay about their interest in the program. Each student worked individually at the center from 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. two or three days a week-a total of 80 hours-between June 14 and July 12.

“This is a branch off the job shadow day we had earlier this year,” said Jeanine Maurer, director of the Aspen Surgery Center. “The students we hosted said they wished they could spend more time here.”

Maurer said that the idea of a high school internship program at the surgery center had come up in the past, and the job shadow students’ interest in a deeper experience renewed her desire to formalize an internship program. She connected with Laurie Looker, school-to-career coordinator at Westlake High School, and the two began working on the details of the internship. Maurer put together a curriculum for the program, which later received approval from the Conejo Unified School District.

Class Is in Session

During each of the four weeks of their internship, Kaplan and Chang had specific educational objectives. They learned how a surgery program works, from pre-admission through discharge and follow-up. They also got an in-depth look at a variety of surgical specialties and procedures, such as knee arthroscopy, colonoscopy, hernia repair, cataract removal and tonsillectomy.

In addition, they memorized a list of medical terms each week, completed two case study reports and spent time with Maurer, a former nursing instructor, learning about the Physicians’ Desk Reference, cardiac rhythms, staffing ratios, infection control, and disaster protocol and planning. Each week, they were tested on the material they had studied.
For their work, the students will receive five general elective credits-equivalent to a semester of a high school class.

Getting to Work

In addition to their academic studies and the opportunity to interact with surgeons from a variety of specialties, Kaplan and Chang participated with staff on many tasks related to running a surgery center.

“This was a working internship, and they became part of the team in that respect,” Maurer said. “They helped turn over rooms, make beds, take out the trash, clean gurneys and so forth. As they move forward in their careers, they won’t forget those experiences. Those basic things you learn make you a better leader.” And that, Maurer said, was the main point of the internship.

“With this program, we’re trying to help grow good doctors,” she said. “One area in which physician training usually falls down in is that the doctors don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, in places like pre-op and recovery. These kids are going through the entire process and are getting the true experience of what it’s like to work in a surgery center.”

Laying the Groundwork

Days before the end of his internship, Kaplan called the experience “an amazing chance for a high school student to see a surgery setting.”

Kaplan, who will start his junior year at Westlake High School later this summer, said he is interested in becoming a surgeon but is not yet sure about what area he might specialize in. In the meantime, his high school courses will include biology and physiology to help him prepare for college and medical school.

The opportunity to help people has drawn Kaplan toward his interest in becoming a surgeon, he said. Among his many experiences at the Aspen Surgery Center, he said he discovered a particular quality that surgeons must possess.

“I didn’t realize how much patience is required to be a physician,” he said. “If something goes wrong, it takes a lot of patience to work through it.” Kaplan said that nothing could replace his experience at the surgery center. “You can study all you want and see surgeries on TV,” he said, “but watching in person is really cool.”

Posted 8/12/10