SOMERS POINT — Sierra Hegh pulled on some thin blue gloves, grabbed a sharp scalpel and made an incision through the flesh of her patient’s abdomen — but no blood appeared, which was a good thing because she isn’t a surgeon, nurse or doctor. She’s just in high school.
Hegh, 15, joined more than 40 other high school students at Shore Medical Center on a recent Wednesday night for a monthly Medical Explorers program, which gives students a sneak peek at what it might be like to work as a doctor, nurse, technician, therapist or other medical professional.
“This is such a great program for them to get exposure and see what it’s like,” said Jacqueline Evenson, a registered nurse in the OR at Shore Medical Center. “Then they can figure out what they might like and want to do when they’re older.”
Many area hospitals have variations of Medical Explorers, which originated as a national youth career teaching program under Boy Scouts of America in 1992. Experts say the program is a great way to teach students about career paths and roles that exist within the medical field.
High school students age 14 and older can enroll anytime throughout the school year in Shore’s program, which holds monthly events at the hospital in Somers Point and has included field trips to cryogenics and cadaver labs at New Jersey medical schools.
The students also participate in various volunteer activities, including holiday caroling to patients in the hospital and planning activities in support of FACES 4 Autism.
Program adviser Bill DeJesus said the majority of students come from Egg Harbor Township, Ocean City and Mainland Regional high schools, and some come from several other schools.
Dr. James Herrington, a surgeon at Shore, explained the scalpels, clamps, forceps and other tools he and Evenson use during surgery. He then let the Explorers make incisions on a piece of red meat near the abdominal area on a dummy and showed them how to do sutures.
“Today he let us use the tools — and honestly, it’s hard at first, but once you get used to it, it’s not that bad,” said Anya Gowda, 15, of Egg Harbor Township High School. “He let us pull the hook through (the meat) and stitch it up and let us do an incision, so that was really cool because it gives you a feel for it.”
Anya, whose father works as a psychiatrist with the hospital, said she became interested in medicine after watching how her own doctors and nurses treated her for things such as allergy and asthma issues, and she wanted to go into a career that helped people.
She joined the Medical Explorers program last year and enjoyed some of the volunteer activities, especially helping children with autism, and is thinking about pursuing a career in radiology.
“I’m not actually completely sure of what I would want to be. I don’t know if I would be a surgeon because I kind of get anxiety sometimes about cutting up things,” Anya said. “But I think radiology, I’m really interested in that because it’s more technical.”
Students in Shore’s program said they were interested in a wide range of medical professions, including physical therapy, nursing, neurology, thoracic surgery, anesthesiology, pediatrics and more.
One of the biggest takeaways Herrington said he wanted students to understand is if they are determined and passionate about going into medicine, they should pursue those dreams.
“There are a ton of options and jobs out there in medicine,” he said. “People will tell you that you can’t do it. Don’t listen to them.”