Community Engagement in a Pandemic: California anesthesiologists support STEMM education for local high schoolers

  • Poorsattar, Sophia, MD
| Mar 01, 2021

Sophia-PoorsattarAmong the many things we’ve missed at UCLA as the pandemic lingered on – our residents had no chance in 2020 to visit local high schools and talk to students about careers in anesthesiology and healthcare. These visits have been a highlight every year for residents and students alike.

Determined not to let COVID-19 stand in their way, UCLA Anesthesiology faculty and residents reimagined this program and made “virtual” Zoom visits to classrooms at two local public high schools in February, through our partnership with the California Society of Anesthesiology (CSA), and the nonprofit organization Project Lead the Way (PLTW).

Since launching the partnership in 2017, our department and CSA have supported the implementation of a four-year elective biomedical curriculum developed by PLTW in three public high schools: El Segundo High School, Venice High School, and the Girls Academic Leadership Academy. This exciting program is an outcome of the partnership developed by the CSA in conjunction with PLTW and the UCLA Dept. of Anesthesiology – a partnership model that has now been implemented by two additional academic departments of anesthesiology, at Stanford and UC Davis. The high school PLTW Biomedical Science programs affiliated with these three departments all receive financial support from the CSA Foundation for Education. To learn more and to make a financial contribution to the CSA Foundation to support this important work, click here

As a nonprofit organization, PLTW’s mission is to inspire and empower students to “thrive in an evolving world” via their established learning pathways in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, medicine, mathematics) topics. The aim is not just to develop the students’ technical skills, but also their ability to reason critically and creatively, communicate, and collaborate. Further, PLTW equips teachers with the training, resources, and support they need to make this happen at the classroom level.

The Department at UCLA also seeks to foster curiosity about biomedical topics and inspire young students to pursue education and careers in STEMM fields. Anesthesiology residents and faculty visit classrooms and provide hands-on experience in point-of-care ultrasound and airway management in LA and around Stanford. The high school students have visited the UCLA Simulation Center and the VA Stimulation Center in Palo Alto. 

stanford pltw 3-1-2021
Drs. Felipe Perez, Misty Montoya, Travis Reece-Nguyen, and Todasporn Rodbumrung

These engagements came to a halt last spring when hospitals became overwhelmed with COVID patients and schools were forced to close their doors. Since this time, many have learned to adapt to a new normal, and prioritized resuming this important engagement with our community members.

With these limitations in place and a desire to maintain the mission to provide mentorship and role models for these young aspiring scientists, PLTW faculty have been looking for innovative approaches. Our recent “virtual” visits focused first on pathways to careers in medicine and what it is like to work as an anesthesiologist. This was followed by a problem-based learning discussion on airway assessment and management, augmented with video content produced by department members Zarah Antongiorgi, MD (faculty), John Shin, MD (faculty), Colby Tanner, MD (fellow), John Kleinman, MD (resident), and Aanchal Prakash, MD (resident).

Dr. Colby Tanner demonstrates airway techniques
Dr. Colby Tanner demonstrates airway techniques

For El Segundo, our department members Lauren Beck, MD (faculty), Colby Tanner, MD (fellow), and Mariam Sarwary, MD (resident) led this virtual program with an audience of nearly 80 students and district-wide leadership. Biomedical pathway teacher Tiffany Maisonet shared feedback from the students:

“Thank you so much for taking the time to teach us all about the importance of anesthesiology. An opportunity like this to meet and talk to you guys was very special and we’re all extremely grateful.”

“Even through the challenges of Zoom and not being able to talk to us face-to-face, you still made the time worthwhile and exciting. … Your work is extremely fascinating and I am glad you were able to share it with us. Thank you so much for everything that you do in the medical community.”

“Your explanations about the different tools that you use and the importance of communication in a hospital setting were quite interesting! I truly admire your commitment and fiery passion for your careers and commitment to us! Thank you again and keep on inspiring students like us to pursue jobs in the medical field!”

This occasion was celebrated by several additional key allies in our partnership. Joining us from El Segundo Unified School District leadership were Tracey Miller-Zarnecke, School Board President, and Melissa Moore, Superintendent. From the legislative side, we were joined by Samuel Liu from the office of State Senator Ben Allen, and Robert Pullen-Miles from the office of Assemblymember Autumn Burke. Joining us from the CSA was Executive Director David Butler.

At Venice High, our department members Elaine Boydston, MD (faculty), Lauren Beck, MD (faculty), Courtney Scott, MD (fellow), Hayley Osen, MD (resident), Andrew Sikorsky, MD (resident), and Rocky Campbell, MD (resident) led a similar virtual program in two split sessions. Biomedical pathway teacher Jeremy Wong shared personal reflections from the students after the visit:

I learned that the field of anesthesiology is a very meticulous field that requires the specialist to always be fully aware. I also learned that anesthesiologists monitor the patient through the whole process of surgery to make sure nothing goes wrong. I find it interesting that the anesthesiologist has to take so much into consideration. I now have a greater respect for anesthesiologists for all of the training and precision they go through.”

“Helping the patients feel comfortable and informing them on what is to come in their surgery seems like something I would do because I know how scary it can be to have a surgery coming up and how important it is to have a doctor or someone who cares about you and is trying to help you get comfortable.”

During this time of change, we look forward to maintaining our engagement with each school’s biomedical pathway program and adapting our outreach strategies to meet the need. We anticipate a visit with the students at the Girls’ Academic Leadership Academy later this year.

The Program at Stanford led by Dr. Felipe Perez has dates set to virtually visit Willow Glen High School and Leland High School in San Jose, and Palo Alto High School in Palo Alto. The team at Stanford is excited to learn from and use some of the successful approaches used by the UCLA. The first Virtual Session were at Palo Alto High School and Willow Glen High School, with six sessions scheduled at Leland High School in April.



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