Building the future of anesthesiology…in high school classrooms

  • Butler, David, CSA Executive Director
| Jun 26, 2017

dbutlerSierra Williams, a student at the Girls Academic Leadership Academy (GALA) in Los Angeles, successfully intubated her “patient” – a mannequin – in preparation for an imaginary surgery, surrounded by her classmates and supervised by UCLA anesthesiology resident Nikki Yin, MD. The experience provided Sierra and her classmates with a vivid sense of what physician anesthesiologists do, and of how the biomedical sciences apply to healthcare overall.

Dr. Yin and another UCLA resident, Christina Nguyen, MD, gave their classroomBlank Print Document (3) demonstration in May as part of a CSA pilot program to support a biomedical sciences curriculum for public schools developed by Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a national nonprofit organization based in Indianapolis. UCLA residents Sophia Poorsattar, MD, and Samuel Hong, MD, gave a similar demonstration during their recent visit to El Segundo High School.

“We at CSA are truly committed to the future of our profession,” noted Karen Sibert, MD, CSA President, Director of Communications at UCLA and a champion of CSA’s Project Lead the Way partnership.  “We want to support continuing education for our members, serve as advocates to policymakers and the public, and actively engage our residents.”

“This year, during our strategic planning sessions, we recognized that to support the future of anesthesiology and healthcare overall, we must commit to the success of today’s students and the communities in which they live,” Dr. Sibert said.  “The Project Lead the Way Biomedical Sciences curriculum is an ideal way for us – and our residents – to lend a helping hand to the next generation.”

The pilot program initially serves three public high schools in Los Angeles: GALA, Venice High School, and El Segundo High School. The program includes four primary partners:  CSA, Project Lead the Way, the UCLA Department of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Medicine, and the office of Assemblymember Sebastian Ridley-Thomas.  

CSA provides overall program coordination and underwrites the cost of annual teacher training; PLTW provides the curriculum and offers comprehensive professional development during the summer. The UCLA anesthesiology department coordinates classroom presentations by residents, and will host a field trip for each program at the UCLA Simulation Center. Assemblymember Ridley-Thomas and his staff provide broad-based community and public support.

Students intubating Encouraging future physicians and healthcare workers addresses a national priority. According to a 2016 report by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the United States will face a shortage of physicians over the next decade. The projections show a shortage ranging between 61,700 and 94,700, with significant shortages among many specialties.

We hope to encourage more young people to consider the specialty of anesthesiology, including women and minorities.  A study published in Anesthesiology found that from 2007 to 2013, the percentage of women in anesthesiology increased overall from 22 to 25 percent. The change was larger for the youngest cohort of anesthesiologists, those under the age of 36, in which the percentage of women increased from 26 to 38 percent. However, anesthesiology still attracts fewer women than other specialties do; since the year 2000 about 46 percent of medical students have been female.

CSA’s Project Lead the Way pilot program helped inspire CSA leaders to form a new CSA Foundation for Education. The foundation will cultivate individual and corporate contributions to support and expand the PLTW partnership to other parts of the state. It will also award annual resident research grants in anesthesiology and patient safety, and underwrite public communications efforts promoting patient safety.

Mark Zakowski, MD, immediate past president of CSA and a former chair of CSA’s Legislative and Practice Affairs Division, noted, “The Project Lead the Way partnerships are a great way to further develop relationships with policymakers. By supporting public schools in legislators’ districts, we’re no longer just advocates in the State Capitol – we’re partners in the local community.”

As much as this project addresses a growing national need, the biggest impact is on the individual students themselves. After her successful intubation, the future Dr. Williams informed her classmates, “Before today, I was planning to be a cardiologist. Now I am going to be an anesthesiologist!” 

The experience impressed the UCLA residents as well.  After the bell rang and the students left the room, Dr. Nguyen remarked with a smile, “This is why we all got into medicine…to help people.” 

CSA’s Project Lead the Way partnership will officially launch on Thursday, October 5, onSophia and Sam with kids the campus of Venice High School. The event will be attended by representatives from CSA, UCLA, the California Legislature, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the El Segundo Unified School District, and special guests – students from Venice High School, El Segundo High School and GALA, the Girls Academic Leadership Academy of Los Angeles.

Personally, I believe that Project Lead the Way is the perfect platform for any employer or nonprofit organization like CSA to engage in public education. In my previous position as CEO of NextED, a regional employer-education partnership in Sacramento, I had the opportunity to help establish regional and statewide networks of PLTW engineering and biomedical programs. PLTW is the largest provider of STEM education in the US, with a quality curriculum, excellent training, and a well-developed statewide and national network of support.

Project Lead the Way’s website describes the Biomedical Sciences curriculum:

 Whether discovering new cancer treatments or teaching healthy lifestyle choices to their communities, today’s biomedical science professionals are tackling big challenges to make the world a better place.

PLTW Biomedical Science students are taking on these same real-world challenges – and they’re doing it before they even graduate from high school. Working with the same tools used by professionals in hospitals and labs, students engage in compelling, hands-on activities and work together to find solutions to problems. Students take from the courses in-demand knowledge and skills they will use in high school and for the rest of their lives, on any career path they take.

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