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Learning well by doing good

When Central High senior Jessica Weber signed up for her school's Allied Health Science vocational study program, it was to get a glimpse of what a career in nursing might be like.

She considers it the best course decision she ever made.

"It made me realize that this is what I want to do with my life," she says. "A lot of my friends who are graduating in May still don't have an idea what kind of a career they want. For me, nursing just seems to suit me, and I'm glad I got a head start on it."

For the past three years, Jessica has been part of a program that teaches clinical skills and other health science basics. In addition, students are given the opportunity to put their knowledge to use in a handson community outreach program.

"The idea is to provide them with practical experience and hopefully get them started thinking seriously about a career," said Kandy Callaghan, who has been teaching health science at Central High for eight years. "But what I also try to do is help my students build confidence in themselves so that they will want to strive to be better in that career."

Students in Allied Health are apt to gain a wide range of experiences. Basic first- and second-year courses cover subjects such as medical terminology, dietary and fundamental life sciences. Also, the program offers a track designed specifically for nursing students, teaching basics such as taking blood pressure, giving CPR and patient care, all of which will enable them to obtain certification as qualified nursing assistants after graduation.

Elizabeth Holop, a senior who plans a career in pharmacology, admits that filling prescriptions may seem a far cry from the duties of a caregiver. However, working with patients does offer an aspect of her future profession that she would not have otherwise gotten, she says.

"I've never been that fond with the idea of being a nurse _ a little too much blood and guts for me," she says. "But a lot about being a pharmacist is communicating with people. So, I'm thankful to get to do some things I probably won't ever do in a college course."

Elizabeth has often served as part of a team of students who regularly visit area nursing homes and hospitals to assist staff members in patient care duties. The handson work enables them to get an upclose appreciation of the human side of medicine.

"The students pretty much do the same things that CNAs do, taking blood pressures, washing, making beds," she says, referring to certified nurse's aides. "It makes you realize just how hard a job it is, and how important it is to do a good job when you're doing it."

Most of the Allied Health students are also active in Central High's chapter of Health Occupation Students of America. HOSA is a service club devoted to furthering career and leadership opportunities for students heading into the health field.

Throughout the year, the students organize community service projects, including health screenings and safety seminars at elementary schools, nursing home visits, and numerous fundraising activities within their school.

Students also participate in a skills competition against other HOSA clubs throughout central Florida. Last fall, Central High students excelled, snaring several top awards in the Region III meet. Fourteen students (the most of any school in attendance) earned invitations to participate in next month's state competition in Jacksonville.

"Besides the sense of accomplishment they get from giving back to their community, HOSA has been wonderful in helping them realize their potential," says Callaghan. "They're putting a lot of time and effort to do well at the state competition because it says to other people that these kids have tremendous capabilities."