From testing birthing pools to stitching up patients, everyone gets to have a go

23rd October 2009 at 01:00
Exploring Careers in Health takes on a whole new dimension for some pupils

They look like they are about to brave torrential rapids - five schoolgirls huddled together, clinging onto the sides of their rubber dinghy.

But this is no boating adventure, these 15-year-olds are testing out a birthing pool and getting all the trade secrets from midwifery tutors at a hands-on health careers day in Inverness. The girls get to feel where the baby's head is lying on a mannequin mum-to-be, they are shown models of babies in the womb and get to test charts to calculate due dates.

And all this from the kind of down-to-earth and approachable women who might be helping them into such a contraption themselves in the future.

This is the third annual Exploring Careers in Health event, but the first at the new state-of-the-art Centre for Health Science at Raigmore Hospital. This pristine teaching, training and research centre for student doctors, nurses and health care professionals opened earlier this year.

"It's wonderful because it's the most appropriate place we could be," says one of the organisers, Moira Forsyth, the More Choices, More Chances lead for Highland Council. "We have amazing technology, wonderful equipment that is used for training staff, so pupils are going to get the chance to use that and see it for the first time."

"Our objective overall is to make pupils aware of the much greater range of careers available to them in health than they might have known about," says the former teacher, now responsible for work-related learning and liaising between education and businesses.

The centre is home to numerous organisations - a Highland base where Stirling University teaches nursing and midwifery students, and Aberdeen University trains medical students in clinical skills. LifeScan Scotland Ltd, which manufactures glucose-monitoring systems for diabetics, has a research and development team here, and NHS Highland has staff training facilities. UHI Millennium Institute also offers degree courses for dental therapists and nurses at the new dental centre.

Workshops run by these organisations showcase job prospects to Highland fourth-years and provide a reality check for those with career dreams fuelled by episodes of Casualty or Holby City. The organisers have pulled out all the stops today - and health service educators and working professionals are giving pupils privileged access to their equipment and expertise.

There are classes on every aspect of the health service you may have heard of, and some you have not - physiotherapy, occupational therapy and orthoptics (the treatment of eye disorders such as squints or damage to sight caused by illness or accidents).

You can learn how to become a radiologist or a radiographer, a paramedic or a pharmacist, a dental therapist or a surgeon - and they're even prepared to let you have a go. It looks like the most fun these teenagers have had since they wore nurses' uniforms and plastic stethoscopes at nursery school.

But 16 Highland schools have sent highly motivated youngsters - no one's sniggering, no one looks bored and they're giving the medical staff their full attention in a training ward where they're shown how nurses manage patient care. They also practise stitching, under the supervision of orthopaedic surgeon Kevin Baird, and learn a range of these basic procedures using simulators, rather than human patients, in the practical skills laboratory.

Nearly 130 pupils have come from schools as far afield as Ardnamurchan, Thurso and Plockton, accompanied by teachers who receive an information session on health-service careers and how pupils should focus their learning.

Michelle Mathieson from Inverness Royal Academy is in the dental centre, examining teeth with a probe in front of a video screen.

Isobel Madden, joint head of school at UHI School of Oral Health Science, explains: "These are phantom heads we use to teach students the procedures before we let them loose on patients down in the clinic - it's a bit safer if you do it on a simulator."

The students watch the procedure on the screen, while they practise on the open-mouthed phantom head. "I'm not sure what I want to do yet, but this is good," says Michelle, at work with a probe and mirror.

"It's really impressive how they look so life-like with those teeth," says James Zahn, S4, from Alness Academy. "I'm interested in anything medical at the moment and this gives you a good insight."

Next door, the simulator Hal is sitting in the dentist's chair - a life- size mannequin with a beating heart who begins talking. He's clearly not well: "Can't you just take me to the hospital? The pain is in the centre of my chest. What happened?" says the unfortunate Hal, in a transatlantic drawl.

"With this set-up, we can actually put together scenarios of emergencies that may happen and so the students find out how to manage a collapsed patient in the working environment. As you see, he is very interactive and we have a whole variety of things that can happen to Hal - poor old thing," says Dr Madden with a smile.

Over lunch, 15-year-old Kevin Docherty from Inverness Royal Academy is decisive and eloquent: "I'm definitely wanting to become a doctor. Different people inspire you. Doctors are people who you don't just go to and they give you drugs; you go to them and they give you hope, they give you counselling, and that's what attracted me to becoming one. A doctor's job isn't just to postpone death - it's to improve the quality of life."

He has attended workshops on pharmacy and on medicine and medical careers. And he's had some top tips on how to get into medical school, such as: "Wear lots of deodorant when you go for the interview!" he laughs.

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