UK pipeline connects fourth-graders to health careers

Author: Tammy L. Lane • First Posted: Thursday, December 13, 2012

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The fourth-graders had prepared with homework sheets and talk of how the pH experiment might turn out.

The fourth-graders had prepared with homework sheets and talk of how the pH experiment might turn out.

The fourth-graders had prepared with homework sheets and talk of how the pH experiment might turn out. Fourth-year dental student Tina Lefta (pictured) and classmate Molly Housley led the kickoff session. They designed an experiment using eggshells to mimic tooth enamel, and the Maxwell youngsters used litmus paper to check the pH levels in four different beverages.
When students saw how soda, Gatorade, water and milk each affected an eggshell after a 10-day soak, they learned about the dangers of sugary and acidic foods. During the hour-long lesson on “creating healthy smiles,” the youngsters heard some basics on teeth, enamel, and proper brushing and flossing.The UK organizers brought along bags of toothpaste, brushes, dental floss for the whole fourth grade. The youngsters also completed a reflection worksheet after the lesson.“This has been a yearlong process –- meeting with deans of the colleges, having our teachers collaborate with the professors to design engaging, real-world lessons to be delivered by people in the field,” said Principal Heather Bell. “This is an exciting partnership, and we hope it gets our students thinking about potential careers in the medical field.”

In a new partnership with the University of Kentucky, fourth-graders learn about diverse career options in the health sciences. All year, they will hear directly from UK students sharing about their college experience and job paths.

“If you’re interested in being a doctor or a dentist, you’ll be in school a long time. But I’ve enjoyed the journey,” fourth-year dental student Tina Lefta said during the kickoff session at Maxwell Spanish Immersion Magnet School.

Working closely with Principal Heather Bell, Dr. Randa Remer and colleague DeShana Collett have organized the year-long partnership with Maxwell.

“We want to get students more involved from a younger age in thinking about health careers. We’d like to bring health care into the classroom and start to pipeline them,” said Remer, assistant dean of student affairs in UK’s College of Health Sciences. “It’s both about the career and about sending a message about being stronger, healthy individuals,” she added.

In an upcoming session, for instance, the fourth-graders will focus on the heart and lungs, aided by a simulator that explains the organs’ functions. They also will learn how to take a pulse and how different foods impact their bodies.

Lefta and UK classmate Molly Housley led the initial hour-long lesson on “creating healthy smiles,” giving the 70+ youngsters some basics on teeth, enamel, and proper brushing and flossing.

“Your teeth can decay or you can get cavities or you can get a crown on your tooth, which is very painful,” noted 9-year-old Victoria Lowe, whose parents work in the health field. “Soda can cause tooth decay. The acid and carbon are really dangerous for your teeth if you don’t brush.” 

Teachers had talked about how the pH experiment might turn out, and the children had completed homework sheets provided by the UK students. When the fourth-graders then saw how water, milk, Gatorade and soda each affected an eggshell after a 10-day soak, they realized how sugary and acidic foods can damage enamel. They also picked up other tips for good oral health, such as eating fewer snacks.

“You should always drink milk and water because it’s important for your teeth,” said 9-year-old Allison Chavez, one of a few who raised their hands when asked who wants to be a dentist.

Remer, who has a son in second grade at Maxwell, said the partnership with the nearby elementary was an easy choice for UK outreach. Several Health Sciences colleagues also have children attending the school, whose immersion program was another draw.

“We have a large, growing Spanish community, and it already needs more health-related services. Having bilingual students providing healthcare delivery will be essential for the future,” she said.

After dentistry, the series will cover physician assistants, clinical nutrition, speech language pathology, physical therapy, medical laboratory sciences and pharmacy. In late spring, the children will tour the related colleges on UK’s campus.

“Several different professions will come through. It gives the fourth-graders an opportunity to explore areas they might not immediately consider,” said Collett, an assistant professor in the Division of Physician Assistant Studies, who will direct the January session.

“We want to draw a connection between science and math and the healthcare industry. I hope they’ll be able to draw on their own experience from the activities and see how it will impact their future health choices and possible health careers,” she said. “We miss out if we don’t catch them early and really get them excited.”

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