PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- High school students from all across our region get to observe a live, open heart surgery five days a week at Allegheny General Hospital. It's a special program that's been running for fifteen years.
From the outside, it's a lot like the TV medical dramas -- glass windows in the ceiling of the operating room where future doctors and nurses watch surgery.
"People always ask me like, 'Oh, are you scared of blood and stuff?', but I've always watched medical TV shows and stuff, but it's obviously very different," said Frazier High School ninth grader Colby Thomas.
The real Dr. Bailey, a cardiac surgeon at Allegheny General Hospital, talks with the students before performing the open heart surgery. The students quickly learn that many people are critical to the surgery.
"I just think it's so crazy that all the stuff that goes on down there and all the different people that go into it and just how many different things are happening at once. It's just so insane to see," said Frazier High School ninth grader Mya Atkinson.
"The goal is not to make everybody who comes in a heart surgeon or even a physician necessarily but to share with them that working in a hospital, whether it's in medicine, nursing, other related fields, whether it's in dietary or environmental services, you come to work every day and you're interacting with people who are at a vulnerable part of their journey in life and it can really impact them by how you treat them," Dr. Stephen Bailey said.
The physician assistant, or PA, is harvesting the veins and artery from the legs and arm. A coronary perfusionist runs the heart pump. Anesthesiologists monitor the brain activity. A surgical technologist manages the many tools.
Several employees come to talk with the students, including a nurse who works with biomedical engineers who are improving heart pumps.
"I didn't know about like a biomedical engineer before. I definitely didn't know that many people were down there in the operating room," Atkinson said.
Even if the students don't want to go into the medical field as a career, Dr. Bailey hopes by watching an open heart surgery, they'll learn the importance of keeping their heart healthy.
"While genetics certainly play a role, we've learned in the recent past that how we live our life, the diet that that we choose, whether we're active or not, is the more important part of things," he said.
But the goal of inspiring young people to pursue a career in medicine or a related field is working. Several of these students plan to follow that path, and many students from the past have returned to work in the very room they observed.
"We've got a number of people on our team who came here in high school and it led them to do one thing or another. So we've got a PA who started her pathway into PA school because of the program, a perfusionist who runs the heart lung machine, one of our anesthesiologist participated, so it's really impactful," Dr. Bailey said.
Since the program started in 2008, 22,000 students have observed the program, and this year alone, 1,500. About 80 percent are high school students but there are also some middle school and some college students too. This is only for schools that have signed up for the program.
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