JACKSON, Tenn. - Jackson Central-Merry Academy of Medical Technology senior Aaliyah Johnson remembers starting the program four years ago unsure whether a medical career was really for her.
"It wasn't until I was assigned to the Well Baby Nursery for my clinical internship that I knew," said Johnson, 18. "I'm very grateful for the clinicals and being able to observe what the professionals do."
Health science instructor Sheila Castleman said once students find the right medical career path through exposure to actual professionals, they rarely are deterred by other career options.
Many JCM Medical Academy students are gaining hands-on experiences by participating in clinical internships offered through the school's partnership with Jackson-Madison County General Hospital, which exposes students to many facets of the medical profession. The students are also competing in the annual Health Occupations Students of America, or HOSA, competition held on Jan. 23 at Union University.
The competition will have several events including dental terminology, medical spelling, medical terminology, biotechnology, clinical nursing and clinical specialty, biomedical debate, creative problem solving and Johnson's event - interviewing skills.
Students will receive awards for their performance, and the highest-scoring students will be eligible to move on to the state-level competition.
In Castleman's Clinical Internship Honors class, Johnson puts in overtime. For the unpaid medical internship, students have to provide their own transportation. Students are also required to write essays and complete research projects. On her last day of class in December, Johnson turned in a 38-page paper that was assigned as an ongoing project for the semester. Her paper included her research on medical careers, diseases, ethical issues and a self-evaluation. "I probably spent about an hour every day on it," Johnson said. "I like for my work to be really thorough and perfect when I turn it in. I'm very proud of my paper."
Johnson hopes to attend the University of Knoxville next fall.
Graduating high school and heading to college is something Johnson is eagerly anticipating. "It's the best feeling in the world, and it only took forever for me to get here," said Johnson, who also works after school at Baskin-Robbins. "School comes before work, and as soon as I get home, I start my homework. I spend at least two hours a day on it."
While Johnson is preparing for college, junior Kaleb Long is thinking about a career as a paramedic. Long was in the HOSA competition last year and made it to the state level.
His event this year will be the Emergency Medical Technician knowledge test. Long will have to answer 50 questions in 60 minutes. "When I started (at JCM), I didn't know anything about health care," Long said. "In the 10th grade I received my certification in CPR, and in the 11th grade, I learned more about diseases."
After high school, Long wants to attend Jackson State Community College to study in the EMT program.
Lina Khalafalla, a senior, is planning to spend many more years in school earning her doctorate at Columbia University.
Khalafalla is competing in the medical photography category in the HOSA competition. "I like to take pictures," she said. "After I had the experience of going to the hospital to do that, I wanted to go into biomedical engineering even more."
As a biomedical engineer, Khalafalla plans to create medical equipment that physicians could use to help treat patients. "At first my father wanted me to become a pharmacist," Khalafalla said. "But when I explained to him what I was interested in, I had my family's support."
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