Students Combine Studies with Stethoscopes

OHS interns, Janine Bahsali and Esther Shafer

By Nancy Parrish, Staff Writer

Janine Bahsali and Esther Shafer are Middletown High School seniors who go to school in the morning and spend their afternoons taking blood pressure, assisting with physical exams, learning how to draw a blood sample and stitch a wound closed, and generally assisting the staff of Occupational Health Services (OHS), a health care department serving more than 2,000 employees at NCI at Frederick.

This is the first year that OHS is sponsoring Werner H. Kirsten (WHK) student interns, in a move that sprang from having a Cancer Research Training Award (CRTA) intern in the summer of 2012. Having a CRTA intern “was a great experience and initiated an interest in mentorship,” said Sarah Hooper, RN, OHS manager. So when the chance to sponsor a WHK student intern arose last spring, Hooper said, the department enthusiastically embraced the opportunity.

Competitive Process

Bahsali and Shafer were selected from among more than 100 applicants for the internship. Shafer said when she first learned about the WHK Student Internship Program, “I knew right away I wanted to apply.” She said she knew it would be a “wonderful opportunity” to understand what it’s like to work in a medical environment.

Bahsali said she has “always wanted to do something in health care,” and saw the internship as a chance to “get first-hand experience on what really happens” in an occupational health care office.

Neither of the interns, however, was prepared for the wide scope of activity that occurs daily at OHS. “What surprised me most about the work [at] OHS is that it varies every day,” Bahsali said. “Some days we get to assist with the blood pressure clinic or watch an occupational injury being treated. It’s very interesting.” They have also observed the nurse practitioner perform a sick call with a patient or conduct a vision test, she said.

Shafer agrees. “Every day there is something different going on,” she said. “I enjoy coming to work, and I’m excited to see what new skill I will learn.” For example, she said she has learned to use a 12-lead EKG machine, perform venipuncture, and practice taking sutures out of models.

Lessons Taught and Lessons LearnedJanine Bahsali

Mentoring, Hooper said, is inherent to the medical profession, and she has been involved in mentoring programs throughout her career. “It is an awesome feeling to participate in launching a person’s interest in the health care service,” she said.

By the same token, OHS staff members appreciate the interest the students have shown in the work of their department. “They have a genuine interest in what we do, and they see the value of our work,” said Margaret Slaughter, RN, BSN, senior occupational nurse. “And they are so eager to learn,” she added.

Both students agree that working in OHS has taught them new, very specific skills needed for working in health care—taking vital signs, measuring blood pressure, giving a physical exam, and assessing reflex reactions at pressure points. “They are like sponges, and absorb all the knowledge they can,” Hooper said.

Just as important have been the broader lessons learned. Bahsali said she has learned the value of working as a team. “No one can do everything by themselves, and helping when things get stressful helps everybody around you,” she said. Shafer said she is grateful for this opportunity to learn new skills and increase her knowledge of the field, which in turn is helping her determine the specific direction she wants to pursue in health care.  

The interns are also giving back to OHS in ways they themselves may not even realize. Hooper especially appreciates the intangible qualities they bring to OHS in the form of “their vibrant spirits and their enthusiasm for learning.”

Both students, who are enrolled in the Biomedical Sciences Program at the Frederick County Public Schools’ Career and Technology Center, are planning careers in health care.

Esther Shafer

Photo Captions

Upper left: Werner H. Kirsten (WHK) student intern Esther Shafer, left, learns how to draw blood with help from “patient,” Sarah Hooper, OHS manager (right), while fellow intern Janine Bahsali looks on.

Right, middle: Janine Bahsali, WHK student intern, takes blood pressure from Carolyn Cable, OHS program coordinator.

Lower left: Esther Shafer, WHK student intern, practices with sutures on a model.

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