Medical “classroom” at RISD’s health sciences center

Four yellow school buses roll up and let out high school kids loaded down with books and back packs, but these students are wearing medical scrubs and this is no ordinary campus. It’s the Richardson ISD health sciences program operating inside the Methodist Richardson Campus for Continuing Care. Space in the facility was made available rent-free to RISD when Methodist Richardson Medical Center moved to its new digs at Renner and Shiloh and left behind doctors’ offices and a working ER.

But it’s not just a space.

The students are working alongside real health professionals observing – then performing – real medical procedures. What used to be called “vocational training” has blossomed into C.T.E. (career and technical education), with classrooms inside a working health facility.

“The teachers here are experts,” said Beth Brown, RISD’s C.T.E. Coordinator while giving me a tour. “They are all RNs, fresh out of the nursing world. We don’t know any other ISD in the nation operating in a hospital. Our vendors tell us there’s nothing else like this.”

Students commit to courses in two-hour blocks plus the travel time required to get between their high school and the hospital (Wildcats have the longest commute to the facility on Campbell Road at I-75), so Brown admits the program isn’t for everyone.

“Students have to plan for it. These are very driven kids. A lot of them will do summer school or online courses so that they can have the time. They work hard. The more difficult part is figuring out how to fit in extracurriculars like Wranglers or sports. We do have some cheerleaders and some on drill team, but you’ve got to want to do it.”

Students wearing teal scrubs are newer to the program and red scrubs represent upperclassmen qualified to work in the new hospital on Renner. Some students opt to earn dual credit through El Centro and can earn licenses and certificates to work as phlebotomists, patient care technicians, certified medical assistants, licensed pharmacy technicians, EKG techs or certified nurses’ aides. Some will use these certificates to enter a career right out of high school, and others will work to save money for college. Even if a certificate isn’t on the radar, their hands-on experiences give them a leg up when applying for college or seeking internships.

“This would put them ahead,” says Brown. “They have a jump start.”

“The students who do clinical rotations at the hospital are going to see all the careers besides doctors and nurses,” adds Brown. “I heard a statistic that behind every doctor there are about 8 support positions.”

Stacey Pierce says her students have pretty much seen it all – and it’s only October.

“They get to go to 20-something departments – they went to the women’s center to see a mammogram and a bone density test, to an outpatient center for a chemo treatment, to an ER to see (laughing) whatever, and last week they saw a C-section and a vaginal delivery in one class period. It must have been a full moon.”

Pierce admits it doesn’t always go smoothly.

“The other day I had a kid faint in the ER. It was just the needle – looking at the needle – but better to figure that out before your parents spend all that money to send you to medical school. Over the years I think it’s really helped our students decide if medicine is where they want to be or don’t want to be. It helps these kids find their passion.”

The kid who fainted was fine later and is back at it. “He just needed to eat,” she says.

LHHS also offers C.T.E. programs in Criminal Justice, Cosmetology, Business, Family and Consumer Sciences, Marketing, Parenting, Technology and Building Trades. RISD’s class of 2018 will be the first to graduate under new graduation plans requiring “endorsements,” or a sequence of courses in the student’s special interest or intended vocation. The new plan was put in motion by Texas House Bill 5.

The RISD health sciences program currently has 279 students, but 600 more kids have enrolled in the entry level course on their home campus.

Taking blood while CTE Coordinator Beth Brown and RISD Trustee Jean Bono look on

Girls learn to care for a canine