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RSS Health Science Students Learning to Save the Smiths
 RSS Health Science Students Learning to Save the Smiths
Photo by Carrie Pryor-Newman

RSS Health Science Students Learning to Save the Smiths

By Beth Dombrowa

RSS Health Science Students Learning to Save the Smiths

The Smith family has a troubling medical history, ranging from bacterial meningitis to chronic asthma to osteosarcoma. On top of their medical issues, Mrs. Smith became pregnant later in life, adding to the family of four; thankfully, baby Carter was born healthy. While the Smiths may be a fictional family, their medical misfortunes are very real to the juniors in the Medical Intervention class in the Health Science Academy at Ross. S. Sterling High School.

Throughout the year, junior students, who were the first group to enter the Health Science Academy three years ago, follow a Project Lead the Way Curriculum in the Medical Intervention Class, taught by Loraine Zuniga. They started the school year learning about the Smith family and through project-based lessons and extensive research, explore ways to prevent, treat and possibly even cure the Smiths’ medical issues.

“Just before the start of the semester, Mike Smith learned he had osteosarcoma, and, because his cancer was spreading, his arm had to be amputated,” said Zuniga. “The students had to learn about therapies for amputees, and build a workable prosthetic arm for Mike Smith out of household items.”

In another scenario, Mrs. Smith learned she was pregnant. Students researched the risks associated with later-in-life pregnancies, as well as genetic testing.

By learning about the Smiths’ challenges and seeking ways to help them through their illnesses, students develop empathy for the fictional family.

“We have conversations about ethics in medicine, and what choices would the students make if they were faced with the same problems,” said Zuniga. “For example, would they get genetic testing if it could tell them they may possibly get sick in the future, even if they currently have no symptoms? Or, would they get tested if they knew they might develop a problem down the road that their insurance might not cover?”

In the class, students do extensive research on the Smiths’ various ailments, and learn about clinical trials that might one day benefit the family. They also discuss how lifestyle choices can lead to health problems, as well as current interventions related to Immunology, Surgery, Genetics, Pharmacology, Medical Devices and Diagnostics. Students explore and develop interventions of the future.

All students in the Medical Intervention class are part of the Health Science Academy, and most have aspirations to pursue a career in the medical field. In fact, several students, in addition to their coursework, also choose to do clinicals, rotations and practicums to earn a certification that will make them work-ready as soon as they graduate – or even before.

“Most of the students plan to continue their medical studies, but certifications allow them to work in their chosen field while they are in college and medical school. Some of these kids will work as pharmacy technicians, for example, while they are in college,” said Zuniga.

By the end of the course, students will have developed an extensive Smith family tree, complete with parents, cousins and other family members. The goal is to map their medical history to get a better understanding of their risk factors. It’s these kind of assignments, said Zuniga, that allow today’s students to participate in future therapies and interventions that can save lives and help more people live healthier lives.


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