Dan Mayer asked the students how they would remove the plaster casts that by now had hardened into a mold around their forearms.
“You bang it against a table like this,” said one teenage boy, who mimed smacking the laboratory tables inside an Albany Medical College classroom. A handful of boys laughed and proceeded to then mime a sword fight with their stiff arms.
“Do you think you can cut it off with a pair of scissors?” asked Mayer, an emergency room physician at Albany Medical Center.
He pulled out a cast saw and passed it around carefully so the group of high school students from around the Capital Region could touch the unpowered blade.
“It’s sharp, and is probably one of the weirdest medical instruments that we actually have to use regularly,” he said.
They were at the college Wednesday as part of a free, weeklong camp Albany Med offers high school students who are interested in pursuing careers in health care. The approximately 30 students enrolled in the program this week are learning by doing — practicing CPR on dummies, taking vitals on mannequins inside the hospital’s simulation center or applying wet plaster to each other’s arms.
On Wednesday, they learned that the blades on a cast saw buzz back and forth rather than rotate in a circle so that it only cuts the hard plaster and not the soft padding or skin underneath.
“The fun of this is that while, yes, it exposes kids to new careers, it’s just plain fun,” said Dr. Ingrid Allard, the college’s associate dean for community outreach and medical education, who oversees the camp.
Sure, there may be goofing off now and again, but the students at the Wednesday workshop had applied for the weeklong camp for a reason. They were interested in health care in some way or another. Some knew the various fields they might pursue, while others were just getting their feet wet.
In addition to workshops and tours of the emergency department, professional staff delivered presentations on aspects of the health-care field — pharmacy, rehab medicine, anatomy, physiology, for examples.
This is the second year for the camp, which originated when AMC partnered with the New York State Area Health Education
Center to design a program that would expose young students to careers in health care. With a nationwide physician shortage, the camp is one of several programs Allard hopes will boost interest in the field.
“Our idea is that even though we happen to be a medical school, we don’t want to assume everybody’s going to be a doctor,” said Allard. “There’s also a whole health-care team. We need nurses, we need pharmacists, we need physician assistants, nurse practitioners, physical therapists, occupational therapists, all of these different groups.”
After spending so much time in emergency rooms as a patient, David Lazzaro wants to see what it’s like on the other side of the department. The 16-year-old from Clifton Park said he’s been in quite a few accidents that required ER treatment, and he got the itch to work in health care during his sophomore year at Christian Brothers Academy.
Since part of the camp includes a tour of Albany Med’s emergency department, Lazzaro got a firsthand look at what it might be like to be a physician assistant.
“I just want to be able to help people, you know?” he said. “At first I was looking into being a doctor, but then I thought I could be a PA because they get to do a lot of different things and take different paths. So after you go through PA school you can specialize and do different things.”
As an incoming senior, Lazzaro is beginning to think about which schools to apply to.
Robby Schmitz has a little more time to think about life after high school. He’s entering his sophomore year at Ballston Spa High School and said the camp is simply an opportunity to get his feet wet.
“I’m thinking maybe pharmacy,” he said, over the buzz of the cast saw Mayer was using on each student’s plastered arm. “But I like this workshop, too.”
Allard chose the workshop for the weeklong camp because of the variety of health-care workers who might end up casting a broken arm or leg in their careers — an ER physician, an orthopedic surgeon, a physician assistant, a rehab doctor, or a nurse practitioner.
She chose the experiences that might be common to multiple specialties as a way to expose the students to the widest array of fields as possible.
“People don’t know what’s in the health field,” said Allard. “They know somebody comes and helps them, but they don’t necessarily know what they do and this is a way of showing them all of these different areas.”