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Teens Practice Medical Skills at Hospital Camp

  • Susan Logue

High school student Xing Zhang, 16, practices suturing at Fauquier Hospital’s Medical Camp in Warrenton, Virginia. (VOA/S. Logue)
As the U.S. population ages, there's a growing need for health care workers. A program in Warrenton, Virginia, gives teens interested in medicine a taste of the available careers in the field.

“If I see you contaminate the field, I have to tell you,” Wendy Greenwood reminds a group of teens who are dressed in green surgery scrubs.

They look like young medical students, but they haven’t even finished secondary school. Nevertheless, they are learning skills professionals use every day at the hospital.

In this class, they will practice suturing, not simple stitches, but "the kind you put on the inside of the body,” says Greenwood, a registered nurse at Fauquier Hospital.

She and a colleague founded the hospital's summer medical camp five years to inspire young people to enter the healthcare field.

“We thought about what are the kinds of things that we could do, that would be exciting, that would be hands on.”

Suturing is a favorite, and a skill Greenwood says she didn’t learn until she was a nurse.

The teens’ "patients" are pigs' feet. But the suture kits are the same as those used in the emergency room.

Because they all attended the medical camp last summer, these teens have sutured before, but Xing Zhang, 16, says, "This year was a little more advanced and we learned how to staple."

They did other new things, as well, including applying plaster casts on each other, moving a pretend accident victim to a backboard, and dissecting a fetal pig.

After attending medical camp last summer, Shreyas Garga, 16, was eager to come back for the second session this year.

“Last year, in level one, where I learned basic suturing, it was pretty much the stepping stone to when I knew I wanted to be a surgeon," he says.

Many of the teens sign up for the program with the idea of becoming a doctor or nurse, but they learn about other careers as well, such as a surgical first assistant.

That’s Thomas Cobert’s title. “Basically I take the place of a surgeon if there is not one available to assist another surgeon in a surgery.”

Before this job, Cobert worked as a surgical technologist, laying out the supplies and instruments in the operating room.

He wishes they had had a program like this when he was a teen.

“If I had known about surgical technology and surgical assist, coming out of high school, I would have just jumped right at the opportunity,” Cobert says.

Instead, it took him more than five years to discover it existed.

The hope is that the teens who participate in medical camp enter the health care field and also work at Fauquier Hospital.

Emily Kacsmar came back as a nurse. She says the program was helpful. “It’s such a good, broad overview of anything medical you could ever want to get involved in, especially in a hospital setting.”

Although it's too soon to know the program's impact, two former campers are in pre-med programs in college and many more are studying nursing or other health care fields.

And the summer camp has grown from one session with 15 students the first year, to five sessions with a total of more than 100 this summer.