The closest most teenagers get to practicing medicine is dissecting a rat in biology class. But one group of Tampa Bay area teens is getting a much more realistic experience.
Medical Explorers, a program sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America's Learning For Life youth program, is offered to students in grades 9 to 12 who are interested in medical careers. The teens hear doctors lecture, go on rounds at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, and sometimes observe actual procedures.
Todd Smoyer, 18, is president of Medical Explorer Post 979, which meets monthly at All Children's. Smoyer, who is homeschooled while also enrolled at St. Petersburg College, shadowed a doctor at All Children's, watching from 18 inches as the surgeon performed emergency eye surgery on the victim of a dog attack.
Being a Medical Explorer is a "great opportunity to get hands-on in the medical field," Smoyer said. He said that in his three years as a Medical Explorer, he especially enjoyed an activity in which he learned to insert an IV . . . into a banana.
The 30 teens in the Explorer Post participated in a Medical Explorer competition, in which they showed off their knowledge of the ABCs of medicine _ airway, breathing and circulation _ plus first aid, medical terminology and emergency medical procedures.
Eli Theroux, 15 and a sophomore at Largo High School, participated in the competition. During one activity, he played an emergency victim who needed to be placed on a backboard. The challenge for the opposing team, another Explorer Post, was to place him on the stiff backboard without moving his spine. The effort was less than successful, and had Eli been a real patient, his future medical career might have been cut short.
Explorer Post 979 placed first in the bay area in the competition.
Theroux encourages others to join this career-oriented volunteer program. "It pays off in every way, shape and form," he said.
Morgan McDonald, 16, who is homeschooled in 10th grade and also enrolled at St. Petersburg College, participated in the nursing program, which covered the basics of infection control and emergency trauma. McDonald said she is sure she would like to go into medicine, though she hasn't chosen a specialty.
"The fields are so diverse. There's eye doctors, orthopedic surgeons, doctors that treat cancer," she said. "There are just so many different fields."
Medical Explorer Post 979 occasionally takes field trips away from All Children's to get a taste of medicine elsewhere. At one meeting, Peter Silvaggio, a Bayflite communications supervisor, talked about Bayflite, the trauma-scene response helicopter based at Bayfront Medical Center. Silvaggio stressed how important working together as a team is for the Bayflite staff, and for the teens as well.
Hayley Germack, 16, is a sophomore at St. Petersburg High School, and Danielle Rossbach, 14, is in eighth grade and is homeschooled in St. Petersburg.
For information about Medical Explorers, contact the local Learning For Life Office at (727) 391-3800.