HOSA gives facts

ISHPEMING – In a classroom on the second floor of St. John’s Church in Ishpeming, 50 high school seniors, members of the Health Occupations Students of America, are learning about Ebola.

And an integral part of such an education is learning to turn what teacher Sharon Dishnow calls “negative stressors” into positive ones.

“We teach them to problem-solve and then we teach them negative and positive stressors,” she said. “And our role as a health care worker is to take these negative (stressors) and put them into a positive.”

In HOSA – what Dishnow called “a vocational course designed for students to develop an awareness of the diversity of the health care field,” seniors from Negaunee, Westwood and Ishpeming high schools learn about everything from the facts and the common misperceptions surrounding Ebola to the “soft skills” of learning to interact kindly with patients.

On Friday morning they’re tackling some of the biggest issues surrounding the Ebola outbreak in west Africa and the fears of the deadly virus spreading in the United States.

“What is … in the United States today that we felt was the problem?” Dishnow asked the class.

“People aren’t educated enough, so people think (Ebola is) worse than it really is,” one student answered.

“So we’ve identified the problem, right?” Dishnow said.

“And then some of the negative stressors are, if you guys would just help me with this?”

A litany of student voices: “Social media is not always factual.”

“Education – get the facts,” Dishnow said. “OK. And then we also have the news. And what do we have with the news? The sensationalism of the news.

“So how can we make this into a positive?”

“Again, facts and education,” another student said.

“Facts and education” is the most common refrain in the HOSA students’ discussion of Ebola – the key to helping eliminate fears and ensure that we “break the chain of infection” – and a mantra for the class as a whole, getting a head start of an education with training to help these students pursue any number of more than 250 health careers after graduation.

“They, as responsible health care workers, they are the ones who have to alleviate the fear by the facts,” Dishnow said. “The first semester they learn anatomy, physiology, medical terminology – we actually have matriculations with Northern (Michigan University) and with Bay College where they get a credit from us in their medical terminology – diseases and basic care.

“We actually have a 39-year relationship with Bell Hospital that we have taken our students there to care for patients and so they are able to explore all of the different areas in the hospital, from surgery to OB to the intensive care to the ER – they’ve seen babies born, they’ve seen surgeries, they’ve seen mastectomies, they’ve seen colonoscopies, they’ve seen people in intensive care, radiology … so all of the different departments that are at the hospital, but they’re in an observing role when they’re there.”

Ashley Burns, a senior at Negaunee High School whose dream job is to become a traveling nurse, said that the class is invaluable for someone who wants to pursue a career in a health care field.

Her favorite part is “basically just learning what we should know about basic life and how everyone can get sick, and just take precautions,” she said. “It’s really interesting.”

Ishpeming High School senior Ben Johns also has aspirations for a future in the health care industry.

“I decided to take this class because I plan to pursue maybe a health care career after high school and college,” he said.

“I was thinking biomedical engineering, but I also wanted to do psychiatry, would be another interesting thing.”

That the HOSA class is taught to high school seniors also gives their teachers the advantage of reaching young students who are intellectually curious.

“Their minds are so open and receptive to everything that we teach them, as far as the health profession goes, and a majority of them are going to college to be in the health professions, so this class, we find that they’re really intrigued by what’s going on,” said Scarlett Johnson, a nurse and paraprofessional who assists Dishnow. “And they’re just a great group of kids.”

And it isn’t just the technical skills that help them get ahead, but those “soft skills” as well, Dishnow said – learning to build a relationship with a patient.

“They have to know dependability – they have to be here on time; they have to learn tact; they have to be kind; all of those things we teach them and we call them soft skills, along with this,” she said.

“So everything in nursing has rationale; everything that we do has rationale.”

For Dishnow, who will retire at the end of the year, teaching the class is about giving back. But “as you give you receive,” she said. “…And when I see these kids … when I saw their level of teamwork and their dedication and how they listen and they want to go out into the public, they want to educate people on Ebola, and when I see that – that they’re the next generations to do that, and their enthusiasm – what more can you ask for, as a teacher?”

email address is zjay@miningjournal.net