A glimmer of excitement lit students' eyes as they explored healthcare professions
A glimmer of excitement lit students' eyes as they explored healthcare professions during the hands-on workshop. Daniel A. Anderson / University Communications

When they arrived at UC Irvine Medical Center, the two dozen Silverado High School students seemed unsure about what was ahead. Would their field trip be a parade of lecturers in lab coats or a meaningful experience they’d look forward to again next year?

They quickly became medical students for the morning, donning surgical scrubs and listening to a talk about advances in surgery since the 19th century. That set the stage for the main event: using the same equipment doctors use to learn the minimally invasive surgery techniques for which UCI is known.

In the surgical training laboratory – equipped with the latest precision technology – students raced each other to fill cups with candy. The catch? Just as surgeons do, they used only laparoscopic instruments – long, tube-like tools with cameras or pincers on the ends – as they viewed themselves performing the task on video monitors. Other students practiced suturing wounds on simulated skin or used the da Vinci robotic surgical system to thread string through a series of eyeholes mounted on an unstable board.

The program, developed by the Department of Urology for high school students, aims to inspire interest in medical careers – as physicians and other medical personnel in busy hospitals – and also to reach students who may not be thinking about college. In June, a trial run created so much excitement among students and medical staff that the program was expanded. Ten schools will visit the medical center this year, with the possibility of more next year.

“The goal is to get every high school in Orange County to come to our labs,” Clayman said.

Any future surgeons among the Silverado students? Urologist Dr. Adam Kaplan said some were naturals. “They could thread string through small eyeholes as fast as some of our residents,” he said, referring to the da Vinci robot exercise.

The students were members of Silverado’s Career Academy, a program that enables them to earn diplomas while learning about potential careers. Sleepy and unenthusiastic when they arrived, the students were dreaming of new possibilities by day’s end. And their program evaluations? They said it was their best field trip ever.