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North Hills Monthly

Job Shadowing Shines a Light on Careers in Medicine

Jul 30, 2015 01:32PM ● By Jennifer Monahan
While students with visions of Grey’s Anatomy dancing in their heads may be surprised when they do not encounter ‘McDreamy’ performing hallway tracheotomies, job shadowing programs at a number of area hospitals offer young people an opportunity to experience what real-life work in the medical professions has to offer before embarking on this career path.

In the North Hills, Butler Health Systems (BHS), UPMC Passavant, and Ohio Valley Hospital (OVH) each have dynamic job shadow programs. BHS is the largest, with 500 to 600 students participating in job shadow experiences annually. Robin Korneff, who oversees the program, explained that the hospital requires participants to be at least second-semester juniors in high school, and has a mix of high school students as well as college undergraduates in their first or second year. This student profile is typical of similar programs in the area, according to Sarah Stewart of OVH and Diane Kolling of UPMC Passavant. OVH hosts 20 to 30 students each year, and UPMC Passavant welcomes about 165 students annually on its McCandless and Cranberry campuses.

Korneff said that the BHS program has grown substantially in recent years, and attributes that growth to the fact that the medical field is relatively stable compared to many industries. In addition to students, Korneff explained, “We also see people who have jobs in a different field, but may not love what they are doing. They come to us asking for a job shadow experience because they are considering a new direction.”

Stewart touts the advantages of job shadowing. “It’s a great way for students to find out more about their field of interest,” she explained. “Often they are expecting a hospital to be like Grey’s Anatomy, but the reality is that it’s usually much calmer. There are a lot of protocols that everyone follows in a real-life hospital. Students sometimes tell me they were expecting to see people having emergency surgery in the hallway like on TV.”

“The program is beneficial because before a student invests a lot of time and money into a college program, they get a chance to see what they do or do not like,” said Kolling. “It’s a lot easier to find out ahead of time that a particular field is a bad fit.”

Kolling added that the program helps students see that in addition to doctors and nurses, there are many other career options where they can help people. “We try to help students figure out, ‘What job is going to match my personality and be a good fit for me?’” she explained.

Megan Crum just finished her first year in Lock Haven University’s five-year physician’s assistant program, and she credits job shadowing with helping her determine that this was the right career path. Crum explained, “I have always liked science. Doing these job shadow programs, I was able to see if working in the medical field was actually a good fit for me.”

In addition to a job shadow experience with a dermatologist, Crum followed a nurse at Butler Memorial Hospital for one day and was a weekly volunteer at UPMC St. Margaret Hospital. Particularly memorable, Crum said, was a tour of the operating facility with the nurse. “Although I couldn’t go into the actual room for legal reasons, I was able to see an open-heart surgery and a knee surgery and then go with her to talk to these same patients a few hours later,” said Crum. “That was an amazing experience, and because of it I’m leaning more toward working in surgery.”

Crum added, “I would encourage people to do it because you might be interested in a career in medicine but until you spend a day in a hospital or doctor’s office, you don’t really know what it will be like.”

Jaclyn Hein, a rising senior at North Hills High School, participated in an extended shadowing program through the Allegheny Intermediate Unit and UPMC. As someone with a keen interest in science and math, Hein said she is focused on a career in the medical field, but is not sure exactly what she wants to do. “I did four separate days, which is unusual, in respiratory care, cardiology, the cancer center, and the gastrointestinal (GI) lab,” she noted. “I got to talk to lab technicians while I was there, and they were enthusiastic about explaining what they do.”

All of the program administrators agree they want students’ experiences to be positive. “The people who have a student shadow them tend to be people who like their jobs and are good at what they do,” said Kolling. “They are good teachers and are able to explain what they’re doing.”

The job shadow experience can range from four hours to a full day of work, and the application process is similar across hospitals. Participants typically fill out a short application form and complete a brief training about patient confidentiality and the HIPAA privacy law.

“The program is important because we have a responsibility to help educate the next generation of health care workers,” Kolling said. “It benefits us all if we can help the right people get into the right places within the health care profession.”

Korneff agreed. “The people who have really good experiences will hopefully be our future employees.”

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