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"They don't have to go to school for a hundred years to get a good job at a hospital and help people."

 

A Jump Start at Hopkins

Hopkins employees show career-minded students how it's done.




During their "Adopt A Class" field trip to Hopkins, 30 Tench Tilghman fourth graders loved seeing how Tavon Howard (top), Maritsa Karais (lower left) and Randall Fox get their jobs done.
When you're 9 to10 years old, you think big. Ask average fourth graders what they want to be when they grow up, and you'll hear "gymnast," "astronaut," "professional wrestler." But 30 students from Tench Tilghman Elementary have spent the last six months getting an inside peek at what their working life really might look like 10 years from now.

"The bottom line is to get the students thinking early on about careers," says Deborah Knight-Kerr, director of Community and Education Projects at Johns Hopkins Hospital. And, given the aging population, the health care field is an especially fertile place to look, according to national data. Currently, one in six Americans lacks access to care, the workforce does not reflect the population, and there are more than 250 health care professions to choose from.

Knight-Kerr's interest in linking an elementary school with Hopkins was piqued when she heard about a program at a Massachusetts hospital in which students were exposed to different health care professions. "We want them to know Hopkins is here for them. All they have to do is succeed in school."

In the program sponsored by the Office of Human Resources Community and Education Projects, three Hopkins employees have been visiting Mrs. Benjamin's fourth-grade class once a month for the past six months. They talk about their own careers, bring guests from their departments, tools of their trade and stories about how they chose their occupation. "The children loved it," says Christine Davitt, who works in the Department of Pathology as an education and development coordinator for the Core Lab. "Sometimes they'd clap when we arrived."

But by April, it was time to take a field trip. On an overcast spring day, the students came to Hopkins to tour the departments they'd heard so much about. They were welcomed by Mary Mullen, a database coordinator in Referring Physician Services, who worked with Knight- Kerr and the staff at Tench Tilghman to create the "Adopt A Class" program, recruiting the mentors, managing the program, and planning the students' day at Hopkins.

Christine Davitt met the children at their first stop, the microbiology laboratory in the Meyer basement. "Ask questions, but don't touch or we'll have to wash our hands," she told them as they took turns looking at bacteria through a microscope. Davitt knew by the ninth grade that she wanted to be a medical technologist, but she realizes she was both unusual and lucky in this knowledge. It sometimes takes people a few jobs to figure out what they want to do, she told the students, and that's okay. "The biggest success is if you keep learning and live a full life," she says. "If it happens to be in science, then that's great."

Someone from each of the medical technology disciplines at Hopkins-microbiology, phlebotomy, hematology, immunology and chemistry-was also available during the tour. The artificial arm complete with veins brought in by Margo Echols, lead phlebotomist in pathology, was an especially big hit. "A part of me has always shied away from mentoring or tutoring, because I wasn't sure I had the skills," says Davitt, who has 21 years experience at Hopkins. "But after this, I think I could be a mentor. I've developed through the experience, too."

Next, the children were handed off to Chuck Gallagher, whose work has nothing to do with bones or veins or medicines. Before he came to Hopkins, he installed burglar alarms and built the first Maryland State Lottery machines. When he arrived at Hopkins 20 years ago, he fixed medical equipment. Today, as a biomedical electronic technician II in Clinical Engineering, Gallagher repairs malfunctioning computers, printers, fax machines and other electronics. His job sometimes takes him to schools in the area, where Hopkins psychiatric clinicians work as counselors as part of the East Baltimore Mental Health Partnership. That's how he first met the students at Tench Tilghman, who know him as "Mr. Chuck."

As a mentor at Tench Tilghman, he helped the students disassemble a computer, and built a Jacob's Ladder (which they weren't allowed to touch) using a
high-voltage transformer to illustrate the physics of heat and electricity. When the children arrived at his department, they met the technicians who repair the hospital's respirators, anesthesia machines, patient monitors and the machines that print patient data. "It sounds corny, but even if we can reach one kid it's worthwhile," he says. "I think we reached a lot of them."

For their final stop, the children lined up quietly, if not calmly, for a chance to climb inside an ambulance. They asked questions about the emergency medical equipment and took turns wearing a cardiac monitor for a "picture of their hearts." Dennis Haslup held the first little girl's paper EKG up to the light and said she was "doing a good job of finishing her carrots."

Haslup, communications coordinator supervisor for Johns Hopkins Lifeline, started working at Hopkins in the pediatric intensive care unit eight years ago. Before coordinating worldwide patient transport to and from Hopkins via taxicabs, limousines, helicopters and airplanes, he was a Baltimore County firefighter. He's spoken to groups of high school students about the dangers of drunk driving and taught CPR, but nothing matched the enthusiasm of the Tench Tilghman fourth graders, he says. "They listen and ask good questions."

One little girl's question-"What do I need to do to become a doctor?"-prompted the volunteers to create a "Getting Ready For My Career" handout, which teaches students to use their talents, interests and skills as clues that can help focus their future career choices.

Haslup has invited many of his co-workers to the school-nurses, paramedics and communications specialists. "The students grasped pretty quickly that they don't have to go to school for a hundred years to get a good job at a hospital and help people," Haslup says.

Mullen and the others want to continue-and expand-the program. In addition to next year's fourth grade class at Tench Tilghman, she has her eye on another elementary school on Wolfe Street. "We need more volunteers," she says. "It's truly a public service by the hospital that can make a difference in these children's lives."

-Seth Hurwitz

If you would like to find out more about volunteering for the "Adopt A Class" program,contact Mary Mullen at 410-614-3701 or mmullen@jhmi.edu.


 

 

 

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