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These Virginia teens want to become next generation of health care workers

Teacher: 'They think being a doctor or a physician is kind of the only career in the health sciences'
EVMS Health Sciences Academy.jpg
Posted at 12:27 PM, Jul 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-28 12:31:43-04

NORFOLK, Va. -- Class is in session at Eastern Virginia Medical School for the next generation of health care workers.

It's not actual medical students this time, but local high schoolers interested in potential careers in medicine.

The EVMS Health Sciences Academy is a two-week camp, offering teenagers hands-on lessons about various specialties in the medical field.

"They think being a doctor or a physician is kind of the only career in the health sciences. Now, they're being introduced to being a geneticist and working with Ph.D. programs and [physician's assistant] programs and things like that. It's opening their eyes to a lot more," said Jamal Felton, a biology teacher at Portsmouth's Manor High School.

The academy first started in 2019, strictly with students from Portsmouth. After the COVID-19 pandemic canceled last year's academy, it returned in 2021, adding students from the Eastern Shore's Northampton County.

Felton says these are two groups of students from two completely different backgrounds with one thing in common; they don't normally get these kinds of opportunities.

"I have a belief that a student can only achieve something that they know they can do," he said.

EVMS invited WTKR in as the students learned about ultrasound, one of the final lessons of this year's academy.

Fourth-year medical students guided the teens and served as "patients" as they learned how to use the equipment to search for organs, arteries and more.

"I had my thyroid right here," said Dev Patel, pointing to his neck. Patel is a rising senior at Northampton County High School. "It was very, like, interesting."

For Dr. Felicia Toreno, the lead sonographer at EVMS and an associate professor with a 35-year career teaching ultrasound, the Health Sciences Academy is an exciting look into the future.

"The opportunity for us, all three faculty members here today, to give somebody an exposure to a profession that we love, I think that is just everything," she said. "To me, these sort of volunteer opportunities are a way for me to give back to my profession."

On Friday, the academy will end its second year with students giving a presentation on one of the careers they learned about over the two weeks, some of which only require a two-year associate's degree.

"(They will present) what the job is all about, the salary, what type of educational pathway they need to take to get there," Felton said.

And beyond that, who knows what the future might bring for these students who are just getting a small taste of what a career in medicine could be?

"It was very eye-opening," said Patel of the academy.

According to EVMS, the Health Sciences Academy is funded through donations and there is a plan to potentially add more school divisions in future years.