Palacios students learn about health professions at UT Health Science Center San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO (Nov. 14) ― Thirty-one Palacios High School students attended the 2014 Health Professions Fair & Science Expo Nov. 8, where they learned how to insert a breathing tube in a medical training manikin, start an intravenous line and transfer a patient into a wheelchair, plus many other hands-on activities.

Sponsored and held at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, the PHS students were among 1,500 from San Antonio and South Texas to attend the Science Expo. The event was designed to give high school and undergraduate college students the opportunity to explore a wide range of medical, dental and allied health careers.

Trull Foundation grant funds students’ science exploration

The students are members of the Scrubs Club, a health careers group begun this fall in Palacios, thanks to a two-year grant from the Trull Foundation of Palacios.

The grant funds a collaboration between the UT Health Science Center’s Office of Recruitment and Science Outreach, which organized the Science Expo, and the Palacios Independent School District.

Palacios science teachers Heidi Turner and Chris Page were sponsors for the trip, and Amy Morales, an English teacher and parent of one of the students, also accompanied the students to San Antonio.

“This was a great opportunity to allow the students to see something completely different from our facilities at home. We have a lot of students interested in health science careers,” Page said.

Turner, who coordinates the Scrubs Club, agreed. “I had 120 applications for the Scrubs Club and we accepted 47. From those, we took 31 students on this trip,” she said.

Student Victoria Carrizales, who attended the Science Expo, said, “I liked the hands-on activities. We identified the parts of the brain. I’m interested because my aunt is a radiologist in Port Lavaca.”

Sophomore Elizabeth Morales added, “I liked the fact that I could learn to put an IV in an arm.”

Morales wants to be a CRNA ― a certified registered nurse anesthetist ― said her mother, Amy Morales, a teacher who helped chaperone the trip and drove the bus to San Antonio. “Elizabeth has been very focused on this since the seventh grade.

“We’re a small school, but luckily we are blessed with groups like the Scrubs Club. We have community support that helps sponsor our programs and we are grateful, because without them we wouldn’t be here at this event,” Amy Morales added.

Scrubs Club

In addition to funding the trip to the Science Expo, the Trull Foundation grant is supporting the monthly after-school Scrubs Club meetings. The extracurricular group for Palacios junior high and high school students is designed to develop an appreciation for science and career opportunities in the health professions. The program also encourages the students to organize community events, such as blood drives and fundraisers for health-related associations, such as the American Diabetes Association.

The club meetings will feature a curriculum and health exploration kits developed by Irene Chapa, Ph.D., director of the UT Health Science Center Office of Recruitment and Science Outreach, plus presentations from local health professionals who will discuss their careers and become mentors to the students.

“The idea is to introduce students to various health topics and careers, and help them understand through hands-on activities what is involved in each career so they can decide if they want to pursue it,” Dr. Chapa said.

Science Exploration kits bring science to life

“The health exploration kits are a great way to help make science come alive,” Dr. Chapa said. “They allow science teachers to take the topics they are teaching in the classroom and make them more realistic through hands-on activities. For example, the ‘Exploring Medicine and the Cardiovascular System Kit’ contains stethoscopes, digital blood pressure monitors, a heart model, a portal electrocardiogram machine and sound cards with recorded heart sounds. Students will be able to hear what a normal heartbeat and a heart murmur sound like. They learn about the anatomy and physiology of the heart, cardiac pathology and cardiology-focused careers.”

Dr. Chapa has developed similar kits for science teachers in the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo area to check out and use in their classrooms.

Enriching science education in rural communities

Gail Purvis, executive director of the Trull Foundation said, “Living in rural Texas, our kids don’t usually have the opportunity to do these types of activities. What we are trying to do is to expand the students’ awareness of all of the different health careers.”

According to Purvis, due to a large immigrant population and many residents earning a living with seasonal occupations such as fishing and agriculture, 43 percent of Palacios residents have not graduated from high school or earned a GED. The science curriculum, mentoring and hands-on activities can open students’ eyes to educational and career opportunities they may not have considered.

“We have a small hospital here with a primary care physician, a nurse practitioner, and lab and X-ray facilities,” explained Purvis, who also serves on the Palacios Community Hospital Board. “I became involved with the hospital board because we wanted to maintain local health care for our community to make sure we have 24-hour medical care available. Our hospital plays a critical role by stabilizing and providing care, and transporting serious cases to Matagorda Regional Medical Center 30 minutes away.

“Sometimes we have a difficult time recruiting health care staff with experience,” she explained. “That’s another reason the Trull Foundation is interested in seeing that our students are exposed to the health professions. We want them to come back and practice in rural Texas.”

Dr. Chapa added, “We have been coordinating the Health Professions Fair & Science Expo for 12 years. Our office facilitates student visits to our campus, as well as volunteering and mentoring opportunities. We also have summer research internships for high school students and undergraduate college students who are interested in health careers. We are looking forward to a close relationship with Palacios ISD and appreciate the funding the Trull Foundation is providing to support this.”

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