The Spark! Challenge: Educating high school students for future healthcare careers
The 5th annual Spark! Challenge was larger than ever with 74 Northwell teams, and 900 students participating throughout the year! Students from high schools across Long Island, Staten Island, Westchester and New York City were able to directly experience and explore the wide variety of careers available in healthcare. By connecting students, educators, and Northwell Health professionals, the Spark! Challenge is helping to reach, engage and inspire students to consider some traditional and non-traditional healthcare careers.
We talked to Northwell team members who hosted students at their sites, as well as the teachers of the visiting schools to hear how the Spark! Challenge makes an impact on our students.
Staten Island University Hospital (SIUH) – North Campus
At Staten Island University Hospital’s (SIUH) North Campus, students from St. Joseph Hill Academy participated in a mock trauma with life-like mannequins. After exciting tours of the OR and ICU, students also had the opportunity to meet and talk with the surgical team.
Jennifer Pla, St. Joseph Hill Academy teacher, was impressed by the engagement the students had with the doctors and nurses, “It gave students insight into the ongoing education that is necessary for healthcare practitioners to keep their skills sharp and improve patient care. The hands-on activities in the simulation lab allowed students to learn firsthand how difficult and technical these life-saving skills are to perform correctly.”
“The mock trauma scenario provides the ED staff with necessary simulation drills and the students love the realness of the mannequin,” says Anne Marie McDonough, senior director of Rehab Services at SIUH, “Students had an in-depth opportunity to talk with the trauma surgery staff, and they asked some fabulous questions!”
Students from Mepham High School partnered with local EMS services for a demonstration of a distracted driver with an overturned vehicle. With help from the EMS team and Syosset staff, students extracted “patients” in a hands-on scenario, then toured the emergency department and ambulance.
“We had an amazing experience that started with a simulated car accident. The fire department actually cut a ‘driver’ out of the car and followed him through the emergency department,” says Peter Steckle, Mepham High School teacher. “Students got a chance to interact with doctors and healthcare professionals to perform tasks like casting and a laparoscopic procedure. It was an experience they will never forget.”
Debra Clifford, BSN, RN, MHA, director of Patient Care Services has participated in the Spark! Challenge at Syosset Hospital for the past three years, “The Spark! Challenge provides students an opportunity through hands-on simulation to learn about careers in healthcare and has opened pathways for students to volunteer with healthcare professionals, and pursue fields that they may not have previously considered.”
Plainview Hospital’s Spark! Challenge visit gave Bellmore-Merrick CHSD students an interactive experience in the Food & Nutrition Department. From culinary arts and menu design to clinical nutrition and planning, students received an introduction to the culinary world in healthcare before ending the day with a cooking competition.
“Nothing ever becomes real until it is experienced,” says Michael DiGiovanni, CTE teacher and chef instructor at the Culinary Hospitality Applied Management Program (CHAMP) at Bellmore-Merrick CHSD, “The lessons that our students learned from the chef, cooks, and nutritionists at Northwell made their knowledge of culinary arts real and enticing. The Spark! Challenge experience demonstrated the enjoyment and sensibility of this ever-growing industry.”
Eric Sieden, director of Nutrition and Food Services at Glen Cove, Plainview and Syosset Hospitals agreed, “Our Food & Nutrition team was so excited to be able to host and share their experiences with the culinary students. Through their interactions with the cooking staff, students were able to see how Northwell is providing nutritious-restaurant quality meals to a population that deserves and appreciates it. When I was their age, the Spark! Challenge is something I would have loved and definitely benefited from.”
North Shore University Hospital
At North Shore University Hospital, students from Baldwin High School learned about all of the different career opportunities that exist within nutrition and culinary. Team members led them in a tour of the department before challenging them to cook a healthy meal.
Donna Prager, the Family and Consumer Science teacher at Baldwin High School says, “The Spark! Challenge provides an amazing opportunity to gain hands-on experience in a hospital atmosphere. Students have benefited from interacting with professionals in the culinary and nutrition fields and has helped many students solidify their anticipated career path.”
“The Spark! Challenge is always a great day for our team and the students. We all look forward each year to see the future of healthcare in these passionate students. They get so invested in the cook-off that we host each year,” says Michael Kiley, director of Nutrition and Dining Services at North Shore University Hospital, “It is so gratifying to hear a student determine their career by this program, and we have been fortunate enough to have students tell us that because of the Spark! program they made the decision to go to culinary school. What more can you ask for?”
Hear from our students on why they love the Spark! Challenge:
“The Spark! Challenge allowed me to see how medicine is progressing as new technologies are created. I now know that there are various fields throughout the medical profession which are necessary to be able to take care of patients including medical simulation technicians.”
“The Spark! Challenge was an eye opening experience that allowed me to expand my knowledge of the different aspects of the culinary field that I wish to pursue.”
“The Spark! Challenge has taught me valuable lessons about not only the medical field but also teamwork. Every department comes together like a puzzle in order to create a perfect picture of healthcare. Without teams such as the sterilization unit, the scrub nurse would not be able to provide the proper instruments, which ultimately affects the surgeon. With this information, I do not only feel more prepared for the medical field, but also I am more eager to become a part of such an exciting and successful career.”
“The Spark! Challenge at Staten Island University Hospital offered great exposure to students like myself who were not familiar with the field of medical simulation technology. My eyes have been opened to a new facet of medicine I would not have been introduced to otherwise and a new appreciation for professionals in this field.”
“My overall experience with Spark! has immensely impacted my future and specifically influenced my future career decision in surgery. Watching the entire OR staff contributing to the health of the patients made me realize that in the future, I would like to use my individual skills such as leadership and multitasking to contribute into saving my patients life”
“Scrubbing in and seeing a surgery was definitely a highlight of all the trips I have been to throughout the med tech program. This reinforced my motivation to be a member of the medical field and even caused me to consider a career as a CRNA. Also, touring the different departments was a great insight on how medical professionals work daily and utilize different technology. All in all I felt very privileged to be part of such a great opportunity.”
“Spending the day at Staten Island University Hospital was truly a great experience! From seeing the residents in action during their trauma rounds to intubating simulated patients, overall I enjoyed gaining knowledge and learning about the various specialties of the hospital.”
“During the tour and workshop at the hospital, we were able to observe surgeries and shadow a variety of workers in the medical field and pay close attention to the responsibilities of different professions. This left a huge impact on me personally since it showed me that there’s more to the medical field than just being a doctor. There are vital roles in the medical field that most people don’t hear about and this challenge led me to discover such roles and research them. This helps me better understand the choices I make in my future in the medical field.”
“I am extremely grateful to have been able to participate in the Spark! Challenge at Staten Island University Hospital. I was able to observe a trauma simulation conducted by the trauma team, as well as hear about different medical careers. I also got to work in the stimulation lab and practice intubating a patient, drilling for a vein, and putting a tourniquet on a patient.”
“I am very thankful for and enjoyed the experiences I have gained and the connections that I have made through the Spark! Challenge that I never would have made otherwise.”
“My visit to Staten Island University Hospital was truly an eye-opening experience. Gaining insight from the different hospital perspectives, such as Simulation Technicians and Surgeons, broadened my knowledge about the many parts involved in running a medical center.”
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