BANDON - High school is a time when students feel pressured to make decisions about their futures. But with little practical experience, that can be a daunting task. 

Schools address these issues with exposure to different career fields and trips to colleges and universities, as well as dual credit classes that transfer to post-secondary schools. 

That's where Bandon High School's Healthcare Career Pathways program fits right in. 

Taught by health teacher Lori Groves, the program helps students discover if the healthcare field is one they'd like to pursue through hands-on experiences and academically challenging curriculum.

Health career exploration started at BHS in 2012, when it was called Health Occupation Observation Program (Project HOOP), and involved around 15 students. Then BHS partnered with Area Health Education Centers for a couple of years, working with Robin Koch to develop healthcare opportunities for students.

The program is funded with grant money and Career Technology Education funds. Grant money also helped purchase equipment for the program, including stethoscopes, respiratory equipment, blood pressure cuffs, pulse oximeters, CPR dummies and microscopes. Bussmann's in Port Orford has donated animal parts for student labs. 

Two summers ago, Groves and other teachers along the South Coast from Reedsport to Brookings went through a grant-funded intensive week-long program through Southwestern Oregon Community College to prepare to teach the dual-credit classes. Groves continues to meet with mentors from SWOCC three times a year to share ideas, curriculum, materials and ask questions. 

Students can earn 16 total credits from SWOCC in the two years of the program, open to high school juniors and seniors. The first year, students take Introduction to Health Careers and Medical Technology for a total of eight credits. The second year, they take Medical Law & Ethics and Body Structures and Functions (anatomy/physiology that includes dissection labs) for another eight credits. 

Completing all 16 credits will earn them an Allied Health Certificate from SWOCC and the credits are free to the students. 

"These credits may or may not be accepted at other institutions, but they are going to give students a strong background in the subject matter, which will help them be more successful in college," said Groves who has been teaching for 30 years. 

"Many of my former students have gone into medical careers and have come back and talked to my classes about it," Groves added. "Megan Haueter, Riley Wahl, Amy Schoonmaker and Joey Plouff have all gone into the healthcare field and have spoken to my classes about their path to that careers."

This year, Groves had five students in the advanced class and five in the Introduction to Health Careers class. Some of them intend to go on to SWOCC, while others plan to attend other schools. 

Shelby Waterman graduated this year as one of the class valedictorians. She plans to attend the pre-nursing program at Brigham Young University and hopes to attain her Bachelor's Degree, then transfer to another college for graduate studies.

"This is an opportunity to give us a better idea if that's the career we want," Waterman said. "It definitely helped me. I don't think I'll be as nervous about going into a class like law and ethics or physiology because I have an idea of what's going on now."

Olivia McMahon also graduated in June and was the class salutatorian. She plans to attend the University of Oregon, where she may major in physiology, then attend nursing school. McMahon came into the program thinking she wanted to be a surgeon, but came to realize nursing is a better fit. 

Part of the program involves a partnership with Southern Coos Hospital & Health Center and other local healthcare clinics, where students can shadow professionals during their regular working day. 

Waterman shadowed at Bandon Veterinary Hospital, which helped narrow her focus.

"I really loved working there, but I think I'd rather work with people than animals because working with animals is really emotional for me," said Waterman, who wanted to be an anesthesiologist, but is now leaning toward being a nurse anesthesiologist. 

"The Pathway program gave us a better idea of the direction you can go and which degrees are available," Waterman said. "With nursing, there's a lot of ways to go, even after you get your degree." 

MaryJane Hammons shadowed at Southern Coos Hospital this past semester. She observed in the Emergency Department and also went on rounds with nurses, helping them check on patients. 

"It gave me a sense of the environment I'm going to be in," said Hammons, who wants to be a pediatric surgeon. 

Hammons plans to attend a community college in Louisiana, then transfer to Louisiana State University.

Duncan Turner shadowed at Southern Coos Hospital, also doing rounds and working in the ED, as well as the wound care clinic. He plans to attend Lane Community College and possibly go into psychiatric nursing. 

Groves said the value of the program is that students discover what they want to do before investing a lot of time and money in college.

"Even if they change their minds after going to college, they've still learned college-ready type skills," Groves said.

"We'd love to hear from anyone in the medical field who feels they have something to share with us," Groves added. "They can contact me at the high school if they are interested in speaking to my classes."

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Bandon Western World Editor Amy Moss Strong can be reached at 541-347-2423, ext. 305, or by email at amy.moss-strong@theworldlink.com. Follow Bandon Western World on Facebook.