"The whole point of the program is to expose high school seniors who have a very strong interest in the medical field to a variety of different medical career choices before they go commit to specialized majors [in college] like pre-med, nursing, physical therapy, medical technology or what-have-you," said Lisa E. Hart, BSMT, MSEd, the program instructor for New Visions. "This way they have a little bit of background and a lot of experience before they commit to anything at a university."
For driven high school students with a passion for medicine, New Visions offers a unique view into the medical world, accepting 15 students each year from high schools in Saratoga County to participate in classroom instruction and clinical rotations - something most medical students won't see until several years into college.
"These students are in the program from September through June, Monday through Friday, with clinical rotations on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays," said Hart. "They're actually out in the medical field for 75 mornings shadowing clinicians and health care providers."
Students who are accepted into the program take on a tremendous workload, spending most of their day at Wesley Health Care Center or on clinical rotations before returning to their home schools to complete the rest of their regular coursework. It's a heavy load and a lot of work, but the rewards of the program can be tremendous.
"It's rigorous, by all means," said Saratoga Springs High School senior Aidan Hopper, who entered the New Visions program at the beginning of September. "It's a lot of work, but the program is so enjoyable. We have this astounding opportunity. The fact that we are immersed in the medical field as 17-year-olds - not many people get to say that they shadowed a doctor today or learned about medical ethics or anatomy or physiology at our age."
Before even stepping into a clinical setting, students are required to learn about medical ethics, confidentiality, HIPAA issues and patient rights, ensuring that they are ready to enter the public arena before shadowing a doctor or mentor. Once instructed on the basics, students partake in a series of clinical rotations, designed to introduce them to as many professions in the medical field as possible.
"There are about 60 clinical sites that everybody goes to," said Hart. "For example, they all go to the pharmacy, emergency room, a veterinarian, a dentist, vision center, chiropractor, pediatrician, family health care provider and X-ray department. Then there's about three weeks where they can choose additional rotations that they're interested in exploring."
For Hopper, having an opportunity to see the oncology department first-hand is something the senior is looking forward to.
"Throughout my life I've been inspired by medicine and people that have been affected by it. Numerous members of my family have been affected by cancer, so I'm looking into oncology," said Hopper. "I feel like there are so many positions out there, but I'd never want to push papers when I could be helping someone else."
While a survey conducted by Hart shows that 85 percent of the students who go through New Visions (out of the 75 percent who responded to her survey) continue pursuing a medical career, the skill sets learned in the program are valuable for nearly every kind of academic and professional pursuit.
"I think it's really important for students to develop self-intrinsic motivation, those skills that they're really going to need for college," said Hart. "They learn time management and study skills, organizational skills and personal responsibility."
"I never really studied until this year and I've always been a procrastinator," admits Hopper, "but not this year. After the first couple of weeks at New Visions, you really kick into gear. It's phenomenal, because it's just what I needed going into college next year." After shadowing the medical staff during his clinical rotations, Hopper was most impressed by how kind his mentors have been, not only to him, but to the patients as well.
"They're probably some of the nicest people that you can meet," said Hopper. "They're really inviting and they really want to teach you everything they can while you're there. All of the doctors and physical therapists that I've dealt with have also been extremely caring and attentive to each and every patient," he added.
The professionals who agree to be mentors for these students are under no obligation to do so, said Hart, and it's these approximately 100 medical professionals who really help to make the program something special.
"Wesley Health Care Center has been very, very generous in providing us our space," said Hart. "The students love having their classroom in a medical setting. All of the mentors throughout the community see the value of this program and have been incredibly generous with their time and willingness to teach my students. We can't say thank you enough to the clinical mentors, Wesley Health Care Center, Saratoga Hospital and all the different health care providers throughout the community."
During January and February, Hart will travel to each of the different school districts in Saratoga County to speak with juniors about New Visions and the opportunities it affords them. Hart will also hold a parent and student information meeting March 7, 2012, at 6:30 p.m. in the activities room at Wesley Health Care Center. Applications for the program are due April 5, followed by an interview for a spot in the program.
"If you're a junior in Saratoga County, most likely you will see me in your classroom in January or February," said Hart. "There are only 15 spots, but any student during the spring of their junior year can apply to the program."