Students Scout Health Careers at USC-VHH Day of Discovery

Photos by Wes Woods II / OUTLOOK Michelle Sullivan, director of physical medicine and rehabilitation at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, explains physical, occupational, cardiac and speech therapy to local students at the recent Healthcare Day of Discovery event.
Photos by Wes Woods II / OUTLOOK
Michelle Sullivan, director of physical medicine and rehabilitation at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, explains physical, occupational, cardiac and speech therapy to local students at the recent Healthcare Day of Discovery event.

La Cañada High School senior Brandon Torres spent the recent Healthcare Day of Discovery at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital learning more about becoming a general surgeon or another type of physician.
The 18-year-old was doing more than satisfying a personal interest. He was also helping fulfill hospital leaders’ goal of encouraging young people to consider taking roles in a critical industry.
Torres was one of nearly 50 youth from area high schools, including St. Francis High School and Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, that participated in the event at the hospital.
“It’s awesome being here,” said Torres. “For them to give us an opportunity to be here and allow us to learn what the environment is like for different job professions is a changing point of whether you do or don’t want to do it.”
The purpose of the event was to get the students to learn more about the health-care industry, discover local residents who are in the field and possibly find a mentor, said Deborah Weirick, a special projects manager for USC-VHH.
“Some really know what they want to do and some of them don’t know what they want to do at this age,” Weirick said. “I think even those who think they know what they want to do might not really have been exposed, or their exposure’s limited.”
Brief presentations explored such careers as nursing; physical, occupational, cardiac and speech therapy; and emergency medical services. They also addressed the work of physicians and physicians’ assistants, of course, as well as laboratory and radiology technicians.
After lunch, there were also hands-on activities that included checking vital signs, performing a carotid artery ultrasound and being briefed on CPR. The event concluded with a job fair where students could get detailed questions answered.
Weirick said this was the first time the event was held at USC-VHH and she wanted to involve students from an array of high schools, reaching out to principals and emphasizing that the program was for youth who have a genuine interest in the health-care field.
“It’s not a field trip,” Weirick said. “They had to write a 500-words-or-less statement about why they were interested in coming. We tried to not make it too onerous, but we wanted them to give it some thought.”
Schools reviewed their students’ essays and used their own criteria to determine who would attend the event, she said.
“I didn’t want to make those choices because I don’t know these kids,” Weirick said. “Each of the schools was really involved in the process. They were great partners.”
To help get the event off the ground, Weirick said, she turned to Dr. Armand Dorian, chief medical officer for USC-VHH.
“I just asked him if he was going to champion it because he carries a little more clout than I do,” Weirick said.
Dorian welcomed the students to the event that began just before 9 a.m., noting that when he was growing up in the San Fernando Valley there was no one to explain to him what happens in a hospital.
“All we knew was either what we saw on TV or what we would hear about from parents who would say, ‘Hey, go be a nurse. Go be a doctor.’ What does that entail?” Dorian said. “The only other avenue you had to find out more information was going and volunteering. But then you didn’t know where to volunteer.”
The local area includes lots of young people who are interested in health care, Dorian said. He described the profession as an important one that needs a new generation of participants.
“All you hear about is ‘Health care’s falling apart. Doctors are all burning out,’” Dorian said. “The truth is, every day there are miracles happening on every level, whether it’s a physician or a physical therapist. Small things like increasing someone’s range of motion — those are miracles.”
Michelle Sullivan, director of physical medicine and rehabilitation at USC-VHH, informed the visitors about physical, occupational, cardiac and speech therapy at the event. Her presentation included videos and a pop quiz that students answered on their phones.
“We’re going to test your comprehension, your memory recall and your auditory skills. Let me know when you’re ready,” Sullivan told the audience. “The first question is, which therapist helps patients establish daily routines about healthy habits?”
After less than 30 seconds, the poll was closed and most of the students answered correctly: occupational therapist. Sullivan’s next question: What kind of therapy helps patients learn how to swallow safely?
“This should be easy,” she said. Most students answered that it was speech therapy. “Awesome, you guys are doing great,” she said.
Afterward, Sullivan said the students listened to her talk and answered the questions well.
“This is amazing [that] we have 45 students in one room who want to learn about health care, because they are our future,” Sullivan said. “So we have every reason to invest in their lives, because one day they’ll be taking care of us. So right now, we’re just planting the seed.”
Scott Cameron, the hospital’s administrative director of diagnostic services, spoke about radiology and laboratory technicians. He showed X-rays depicting damaged spines and lungs, the presence of pneumonia, fingers injured by firecrackers and wounds from a car accident.
“This is a very classic car accident pre-safety belts,” Cameron said to the young audience. “It’s a car accident where the driver slammed underneath the dash. The upper legs are smashed. Then the lower leg has hit under the dash and is fractured down low as well.”
Cameron said technicians can work long hours and be on call for emergencies, and they sometimes work for challenging doctors.
“There’s nothing, I think, neater to see than a doctor pushing to get a patient diagnosed,” Cameron said. “They’ll push you to do that.”
Dorian was in the back of the room and smiled as he said, “I push.”
Francesca Christensen, an FSHA student who is serving as Miss La Cañada Flintridge, said the day reaffirmed her interest in becoming a nurse practitioner. She enjoyed learning about other types of health careers even if she wasn’t considering them.
“I don’t think I knew there were that many different types of therapy and that they were very specific, like occupational therapy and speech therapy,” Christensen said. “They all kind of fit together.”

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