May 1, 2008, Stratford Star

Students find the path... On the road to a medical career

By Linda R. Goodman

Choosing a college and career while still in high school can be a little intimidating. But the town’s two high schools are trying to make it easier for anyone looking for a career in the medical field to get a leg up on the competition.

With the help of a Medical and Health Careers Expo at Housatonic Community College (HCC), 125 Stratford High School students who are enrolled in the Health and Medical Careers Pathway Program listened to medical professionals and what the best choices would be for them. They also attended a career fair and talked to other students who are interested in the medical field.

“A lot of people just think it’s nurses and doctors, and there are so many different things you can go into in the health-care field,” said Marlene Beck, an academic counselor at the Bridgeport Hospital School of Nursing.

Also present during the career fair were the Connecticut community colleges nursing and allied health programs, St. Vincent’s College, Porter and Chester Institute, the Connecticut Department of Labor, the University of Bridgeport, Gateway Community College and the Southwestern Area Health Education Center.

For the students, some gained a new perspective on a potential career while others reaffirmed their career choices.

“It was a nice experience for Yolanda and me; we’ve been doing internships, so a lot of people that we saw today were people that we have already met,” said Ebony Lewis, a Stratford High School sophomore who is looking for a career in medical assisting.

“It just basically confirmed for me that I really am meant for that field. I really like helping people,” said Stratford High School senior Yolanda Morgan, who wants to be a pediatrician.

“And the salary is nice,” Ebony said. “Like they said, if you love your job, then it’s not work.”

Stratford senior Cyndi Russell said she is interested in a career in the mental health field.

“The way the human mind works is really interesting, and you see how people react to different situations and find out why and how to help them in a better way to make their life easier,” she said.

Christine Smigel, a junior at Bunnell, found her visit to the expo interesting.

“It really showed me what I might want to do in my future,” she said. “I think it would be good for me because I like working with people, and I like feeling accomplished after helping people.”

Making a career choice while still in high school can often set a student on a better path instead of getting to college and then deciding what path to choose, said many of the employees who answered students’ questions during the career fair portion of the expo.

“It’s an absolutely wonderful idea. Here are students who are beginning their high school career and exposed to a wide variety of career choices,” said Shirley Zajdel, chairman of the math and science department at HCC. “Then they can make really educated decisions about what they’re interested in pursuing. For most students, having a dedicated job concept is so important in their success.”

“I thought it was really cool. I learned a lot about a couple of different careers that I wouldn’t have thought of before,” said Samantha Marks, a junior at Stratford High who is leaning toward a career as either an emergency room trauma doctor or a physician’s assistant.

“They were very interesting; it really showed me what I might want to do in my future. I think it would be good for me because I like working with people, and I like feeling accomplished after helping people,” Christine said.

Diane Christiano, coordinator of career and technical education for Stratford Public Schools, said the Medical Careers Pathway Program has been in place for four years and has become a successful choice for many students, some of whom are currently interning at local hospitals.

“We have it both at Stratford High School and Bunnell High School. It starts off with a foundation course; it’s called Medical Careers I and II. We try and recruit 10th-graders because in 10th grade we really want them to start thinking about what kinds of courses they need to take, what kind of math and science to go into the medical field, and the foundation course is really exploratory.”
She said the program and the expo help students explore all the different pathways in the health and medical fields and help them identify where they think they might eventually end up.

Christiano said there is now a Medical Careers III and IV class currently at Stratford High and next year the school will have a pre-nursing program.

She said students focus solely on a specific career choice, including college research.

“That’s what this is all about, helping kids make good career and education decisions and take the right courses, so when they leave high school, they go into programs and not spend a year or two floundering around, trying to find out what it is they are interested in,” Christiano said.

One of the presenters was Dr. Sheldon Yessenow, of the Oronoque Veterinary Hospital in Stratford, who spoke about his field of veterinary medicine.

“I told the students that it’s difficult to get into veterinary school because there aren’t that many schools in the United States, and if they want to get in, they have to have very good grades. They need to volunteer or do some kind of shadowing, not just in my profession, but in any profession that they are going to go into. It gives them a feel for whether they like it or not. If they do like it, I told them something I heard on the radio yesterday, if you like what you do, you never have to go to work.”