The Charger Blog

Immersive Summer Program Enables High School Students to Explore Careers in Healthcare

The University’s Health Professions Summer Academy offered a wide variety of fun, engaging, and hands-on opportunities for participants to learn about and experience a variety of potential career paths.

September 7, 2021

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Group shot of the summer academy students
The University’s Health Professions Summer Academy enabled high school students to learn about a variety of potential career paths.

When Santiago Gomez ’23 was in high school, he volunteered as an emergency medical technician. He loved the fast-paced nature of the work, and he enjoyed being able to help so many patients.

Now a paramedicine major at the University of New Haven, Gomez is looking forward to a career in the healthcare field. This summer, he shared his passion for the field with high school students, serving as a teaching assistant for the University’s Health Professions Summer Academy.

“What I enjoyed most was seeing the students find what career path they wanted to pursue,” he said. “One student had never even heard of a medical laboratory scientist, and after the program, she said she wanted to become one. I hope that the students learned how much work goes into being a paramedic and how fast-paced the career is.”

students in the lab.
Prof. Joseph Soto teaches students how to do CPR.
‘Expose students to a wide range of clinical and non-clinical health professions’

A summer program for students entering grades 9 through 12, the academy was led by members of the University’s School of Health Sciences, including students such as Gomez and faculty and staff. Students who completed the program earned three college credits – the equivalent of the University’s “Intro to Health Professions” course. They also earned their CPR certification through the Yale Center for EMS.

Student learning to take blood pressure.
Michele Smallidge, Ed.D., RD, and Santiago Gomez ’23 (right) show a student how to take a patient’s blood pressure.

As part of the program, Jessica Holzer, Ph.D., an assistant professor of health sciences, led a simulation that taught students about the spread of disease and the importance of public health professionals. Michele Smallidge, Ed.D., RD, taught students how to design and complete a fitness program.

Other University faculty members, including Michael Urban, OTD, MBA, M.S., and Laura M. Silva, M.S. CCC-SLP, taught the students about accessibility, speech and language pathology, and ethics, and they instructed them on how to take a patient’s blood pressure and check a pulse.

Samantha Morales,’18 MHA, interim director of the University’s Master of Healthcare Administration program and internship coordinator for the School of Health Sciences directed the summer academy. She hopes the program expanded students’ career interests and possibilities.

“My goal with the Health Professions Summer Academy has always been to expose students to a wide range of clinical and non-clinical health professions,” she said. “Oftentimes, when people think of healthcare they immediately think of a doctor or nurse. Although those professions are critical to the health and well-being of our communities, there are many other health professions that also help people.”

‘I wish…I could have attended a program like this’

As part of the academy, students explored a variety of career paths in the healthcare field, including dental hygiene, public health, and nutrition and dietetics. They took part in hands-on activities, visiting Griffin Hospital and going on a scavenger hunt; learning how to take teeth impressions and radiographs in the University’s Dental Hygiene Center; and making heart healthy granola bars. Using virtual reality technology, students also learned about the human body.

students in the lab.
The program was led by members of the University’s School of Health Sciences.

“At the end of the week, many of the students ended up falling in love with careers that they had not heard of previously,” said Gomez. “Some of them decided they wanted to pursue an entirely different career in healthcare.”

The academy was also a learning opportunity for Gomez. As a teaching assistant, he coordinated with health professionals, created a page on Canvas so that students could reflect on what they learned each day, and designed the academy shirts. He says it was a hands-on opportunity to learn about the planning that such a program requires, and that it enabled him to develop his communication and organizational skills. He hopes the students learned just as much from their participation in the weeklong academy.

“Programs like the Summer Health Professions Academy are important for high schoolers because they can offer them guidance they may not otherwise have had,” he said. “I wish that when I was in high school, I could have attended a program like this so that I could have been more prepared for the healthcare field.”