Cutting edge learning: Alabama high schoolers learning about healthcare in operating room lab

Published 10:13 am Tuesday, December 15, 2020

For one Alabama high school, seniors are trading pencils and notebooks for scalpels and surgical masks.

The seniors at Chelsea High School are learning about the exciting and dynamic world of the hospital operating room just steps down their high school hallway with a state-of-the-art simulated surgical learning lab.

The Chelsea High School Health Sciences program’s surgical suite learning lab includes a day-of-surgery admissions station, sterile processing department, pre-op holding area, operating room and a recovery room bay complete with patient care simulators, surgical scrub sink, operating room lights, surgical table, electric hospital beds, and an authentic “red line” denoting restricted and semi-restricted perioperative patient care areas.

The program, which is the only one like it at the high school level in Alabama, began in 2019-2020 as a means of addressing healthcare staffing shortages in the region.

“After consulting various hospitals within our area and analyzing the data of student career interests as well as regional workforce job demands, this program made sense and is a great addition to our school system’s Career and Technical Education course offerings,” Career Technical Education Supervisor Julie Godfrey said. “We have other healthcare programs within our district, yet we had a desire to make this one unique. Our school system submitted a new Career and Technical Education Course of Study, Operating Room Foundations, that was adopted by the Alabama State Department of Education.”

Operating Room Foundations introduces students to the exciting and dynamic world of the operating room and exposes students to an array of multidisciplinary specialties and concepts within perioperative medicine.

Course content focuses on the knowledge and skills needed to promote patient safety and optimize surgical outcomes.

The program’s course sequence also includes Foundations of Health Science and a Health Science internship for senior students.

This program serves about 140 students each school year.

The exposure to various healthcare-related fields and topics will have long-lasting benefits from helping students choose a career to meet their personal and family healthcare care needs.

“The program creates awareness of the many healthcare positions available, and the knowledge learned will benefit students in their future job training and post-secondary school endeavors,” Godfrey said.

Andrea Maddox, BSN, RN serves as the Health Science instructor and HOSA – Future Health Professionals advisor at Chelsea High School.

“Ms. Maddox is passionate about educating the next generation of perioperative healthcare professionals and leaders, and her expertise in the field has been an immense asset in helping to build the program and train our students in real-world job skills,” Godfrey said. “Ms. Maddox has increased students’ knowledge of the healthcare opportunities available to them through her enthusiasm for exploring various medical careers.”

During the 2019-2020 school year, Maddox began participating in a research study involving the National Center for Disaster Medicine and Public Health.

The study was funded by grant support from the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate by being trained to instruct FAST (First Aid for Severe Trauma), an American Red Cross educational program that will be made available free-of-charge to high school students beginning spring 2021.

Maddox was awarded the 2020 Heart of Healthcare Award by The Shelby County Chamber’s Healthcare Professional of the Year program and the “Ray of Sunshine” award as voted on by the Chelsea High School student body.

“We have received letters from students and parents telling us what a positive impact Ms. Maddox and her classes have had on them, but one story, in particular, stands above the rest,” Godfrey said. “Before school went on break in March 2020 due to COVID-19, Ms. Maddox already had the CPR manikins out in preparation for future certification training and felt compelled to squeeze in a preview lesson. A few weeks later, a student emailed Ms. Maddox and explained how that lesson helped her save the life of a child who was choking while she was babysitting.”

Funding for the surgical lab was provided by Shelby County Schools and through a $20,000 grant awarded by Cawaco RC&D and $18,000 from the Hollie Foundation.

The Chelsea High School PTO purchased some equipment, and Shelby Baptist Medical Center donated the surgical light.