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Hands-on health class teaches career lessons

Registered nurse Mary Hulston thinks she is helping to meet some of the health challenges of the 21st century.

By teaching students about health care and related services in the health science education program at Land O'Lakes High School, she is preparing them to fill much-needed positions.

"I want them to know there is so much out there in the medical field," she said.

Hulston and other experts say the health care industry is suffering from a shortage of qualified professionals. Eight of today's 10 fastest-growing careers are in the health care field, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor.

In Florida, Hulston said, 40 percent of the jobs in 2002 will be in the medical field, providing an opportunity for students who are interested in health care to secure employment.

Hulston's students are getting a head start.

Seven girls are in her morning allied health assistant class, and when they complete the course, they will be ready for entry-level employment as an allied health aide or they may enter one of the many programs at community colleges or universities.

Erin Sell, 15, said she is in the class because she loves working with people.

"I have a big heart," the sophomore said. "My mother says I wear it on my sleeve."

A career in cardiovascular surgery may be in the future for Erin.

Last year, she took the medical skills class. She plans to take more health courses if they are offered.

The friendships she has formed in her class are important to her, and she is very fond of her teacher.

"She is funny and open-minded," Erin said. "We can be ourselves around her and she treats us like we are teenagers and doesn't expect us to act like adults."

Senior Kim Stevens is taking the class because she wants to become a veterinarian.

"Even though we don't work with animals in the classes, it does teach me the basic medical skills to carry over into a career in veterinary medicine," Kim said.

After school, Kim works at the Pasco Veterinary Clinic taking care of the animals in the boarding section. She is also studying to become a vet assistant.

"I'm not easily grossed out, so I was able to assist in surgery," she said.

Kim likes her teacher so much that after three classes with her in the morning she returns in the afternoons to help file, grade papers and take attendance.

During a recent class, six of the students practiced taking vital signs on the seventh classmate.

"If the chest isn't clear it will sound like Rice Krispies," Hulston said.

She explained that the students would be doing some hands-on activities at local doctors' offices and at the veterans' and children's nursing homes.

The students also checked pedal pulses on their "patient."

"You check the top of the foot to make sure there is a good circulation," said Hulston. "This is a good way to tell if there is a blood clot in the legs. You will see this a lot in hospitals, especially if the leg is in a cast or there is a leg injury."

In addition to the hands-on lessons, the students do a lot of research.

Last month they studied cancer.

Ashley Wilcoxen, 17, did research on cervical cancer, a disease that has affected her personally.

"I want to make sure teenagers are aware that cancer shows no age limit," said Ashley, a junior who was recently diagnosed with the disease.

Fortunately for Ashley, her cancer was detected early.

"If this hadn't been caught, it would have been worse," she said. "So I am telling all girls to get a Pap smear."

Lecturers also speak to Hulston's students. Topics include AIDS and infection control.

Hulston hopes that when her students complete her classes, they will have increased their medical knowledge, will have good speaking and writing skills and will know how to create a resume.

_ Michelle Jones covers central Pasco community news. She can be reached at (813) 226-3459. Her e-mail address is