Quitman HS health science program prepares students for careers, college

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In this school year alone, Quitman High School health science students have earned 108 career certifications. Additionally, they’ve gained invaluable hands-on experience at local medical facilities and some are ready for jobs out of high school.

Under the guidance of teacher Brittany Emerson, students start as sophomores and gradually become more knowledgeable by the time they graduate.

“The health science program its whole purpose is to get kids interested in the medical field, help them get some certifications prior to entering the medical field and just help them get a plan to where they want to go after high school,” Emerson said.

One of the major certifications students can earn is pharmacy technician, which they can receive by completing the Exam for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ExCPT).  

Having that certification allows them to get a well-paying job out of high school as well as a potential way of paying for college tuition. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual pay for a pharmacy technician in Texas was $34,290 last year.

Emerson explained that the pharmacy students work hard all year to earn their certification. So far, five students have completed the exam this year.

Senior Dalton Brandon, who will attend University of Texas at Arlington this fall for a degree in urology, explained that the pharmacy course is definitely not easy.

“You work for your grades and it’s not just given to you,” he said. “If you’re going into it you have to know it’s okay to accept a B in a class or even a C because it’s not an easy class, and do not expect an A. You’re not going to get an A unless you work your tail off.”

As many students have done in the past, Brandon plans to find a job as pharmacy technician while attending college.

“Most students that I have don’t stop, like pharmacy is not going to be the last thing they do. Most of them are using it as stepping stone for a different career in the medical field,” Emerson said.

Along with pharmacy, other certifications include Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) Healthcare, Optimization Policies for Adaptive Control (OPAC) Medical Terminology, Heartsaver from the American Heart Association and Stop the Bleed from the American College of Surgeons.

In addition to certifications, QHS health science program partnered with UT Health Quitman for a job shadowing course. Ten students rotate through 14 different hospital departments within four months in the spring.

UT Health Quitman CEO Patrick Swindle shared how the students working with the hospital allows the kids to see opportunities for their future.

“UT Health Quitman is proud to partner with Quitman High School to provide health science students valuable, real-world experience in our hospital,” Swindle said. “Our goal, and it’s part of the UT Health East Texas mission statement, is to educate and develop the caregivers of the future. We want to help build that foundation right here at home so that when these students have completed their studies and they’re ready to enter the workforce, they come back and practice at UT Health Quitman.”

Students have shadowed in surgery, med surgery, radiology, medical records, case management and admissions, Swindle noted.

Senior Katelyn Coats enjoyed visiting the emergency room while at the hospital. She will attend Northeast Community College in Mount Pleasant and plans to go into nursing.

Seniors also have a chance to experience medical careers in the real world while learning at facilities, such as Quitman Therapy, Brookshire’s Pharmacy, Scott’s Pharmacy, Christus Trinity Clinic Quitman and Quitman Animal Clinic.

Emerson said the health science program is blessed to have local facilities in Quitman.

“Because we have a hospital down the road and because we have so many medical facilities in Quitman, that’s the only reason that all this is possible. We’re able to do it within school hours,” Emerson said. “The practicum wouldn’t exist – that wouldn’t exist if we didn’t have somewhere for our students to go.”

Brandon has been working with Dr. James Dopson at Christus Trinity Clinic in Quitman this year, and the experience gave him the chance to see a doctor in action.

“Being with Dr. Dopson, it kind of gave me a real word situation of seeing what doctors actually prescribe to certain people and how those medications actually help,” Brandon said. “Me walking out of high school with this information already, going into college I’ll already have a step up compared to other college students.”

Dopson assigned Brandon research papers to write on medicines and read medical textbook chapters.

Through all the rigorous work and training, Emerson wants her students to have direction of what they want to do after high school.

Although he chose not to go into medicine, Lane Blalock, 2018 QHS valedictorian, was able to use the skills learned in Emerson’s practicum classes while attending Texas Tech University.

“During my junior year of high school, I took Mrs. Emerson’s health practicum course to explore the possibility of a career in the medical field. While I have discovered that the medical field is not for me, I have benefited tremendously from that class,” Blalock said. “Even as an agribusiness major, the knowledge and skills I learned in the health practicum classroom have helped me greatly in college. Mrs. Emerson teaches passionately in hopes of preparing students for life. I hope that I can have half the impact that Mrs. Emerson has left on her students.”

Students also learn to build resumes, basic first aid skills, CPR, communicating well with professionals, medical terminology, privacy laws in Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and anatomy and physiology.

“That’s my biggest seller – that when you come out of here you’re just a smarter, well-rounded person,” she said. “We build resumes as a junior and all these certifications go on there. Some kids don’t have anything to put on their resume because they haven’t had a job. We’re able to fill in those holes with certifications.”

Students also have skills from presentations and training to take with them, such as the Compression and Stop the Bleed presentations from UT Health. They’ve attended the Medical Scholars Academy, a UT Health student conference and presented at the Piney East Perkins Spring Consortium meeting and student showcase.

As a learning activity, the pharmacy students will work together to create chapsticks for teachers and administration to be voted on in a classroom competition.

Looking to the future, Emerson is hopeful that the program can continue to grow for the better.

“We’ll just to whatever we need to do to adjust the demands of the job market because it’s always changing,” she said.

For next year, Emerson hopes to add a patient care technician certification. The program will also include a sports medicine practicum course taught by Quitman ISD athletic trainer Scotty Almon.

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