Girls in STEM: Health Care

By Carrie Scheick, Program Coordinator

Girls in STEM has a goal of inspiring young women to engage with STEM subjects throughout their education career. Our next Girls in STEM program is April 27th and has a focus on careers within landscape design and architecture. Check out our website to register.

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Our Girls in STEM Health Care program last weekend was certainly one to remember! This program was incredibly impactful thanks to our program partners - Summit Orthopedics, Kaiser Permanente, Colorado Mountain College, and St. Anthony Summit Medical Center. With their help, this experiential learning program was taken to a whole new level. It was so encouraging to meet and interact with local professionals in the medical field; we learned that there are a lot of different options in the way that you can care for people.

Kimberly Blank, MSN was our first STEM Mentor of the weekend to share about her career. Kimberly first wanted to be a nurse as a young child and was unable to shake the desire as she grew up. She shared her experience of working in different roles within hospitals, Medical Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and Post-Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU) Registered Nurse (RN), before moving into her current role as Medical Office Director and Nurse Manager at Kaiser Permanente. Kimberly shared a video put together by the local Kaiser Permanente staff. Multiple staff members shared what inspired them to pursue a career in medicine, their education, roles with the organization, how they use STEM on a daily basis, and a lot of encouraging words for the girls to keep pursuing their passions. The girls also asked Kimberly some really great questions. “How has gender affected your career?” “Do you get grossed out by blood?” “Have you ever treated patients who had snake bites?” Turns out she once worked in an anti-venom center in Pittsburgh!

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On Saturday morning we visited Summit Orthopedics. We toured the clinic and got to see patient rooms, the x-ray room, and the “ortho bay” where all the casts are put on patients.

Kalli and Nina, the Athletic Trainer and Lead Orthopedic Tech, talked about the different bones in the body and gave a casting demonstration. The girls then got to practice the casting skills learned, creating a cast around a small water bottle. Cotton padding is the first layer when creating a cast. The next layer is fiberglass, a type of plastic that can be shaped, that is wrapped around the cotton padding. The fiberglass experiences an exothermic reaction, which means it hardens when it is exposed to air. The fiberglass wrap is cut and laminated, using water to ensure there are no creases or extra flaps in the fiberglass before the cast drys.

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Sarah, the X-Ray Technician, talked about the imaging technology she uses on a daily basis. X-rays are used to see only bones, CT scans are used to see bones and muscles, and MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) are used to see only muscles. Ultrasounds are used to look at fluids within the body. Fluoroscopy, kind of like a live x-ray movie, is often used during surgeries. One of the most memorable facts to the girls was that metal isn’t allowed in a room with an MRI machine because the machine is a very large magnet. The girls were very concerned about their braces coming off if they entered a room with an MRI machine, despite Sarah’s many assurances that they would not be allowed because they would not pass the extensive screening process!

Sarah showed the girls models and pictures of the different machines used and images created by those machines. She asked the girls to identify the bones and fractures of the photos. X-rays are always taken from different views (at least 90 degrees from each other) because from some angles, you cannot see the break. We also saw some photos with some titanium nails, rods, and plates that were put in to assist the healing process.

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Next, we went back into the x-ray room to learn how the machine works. The radiation comes out of the machine (where Sarah’s hand is in the picture below) and then hits the detector which creates the image. The walls of x-ray rooms are all made of lead because it limits the radiation from bouncing around and coming into contact with the x-ray technicians. Sarah had us stand in front of the computer and then she would x-ray different objects and we would have to guess what they were. The pictures were pretty neat!

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We also got to meet Dr. Xan Courville, the first female orthopedic surgeon in Summit County! She shared about her journey growing up in a Colorado ski community, navigating her education and interests within the medical field, and returning to Colorado to give back to a ski community. Xan said her favorite thing about her job is working in a team. She also loves that she gets to act as a coach, seeing progress as patients physically recover from injuries.

The girls asked her what her favorite and least favorite fractures to fix. Her favorite fracture to fix is the tibia because nails can be inserted and a patient can walk on it the same day as the surgery. Her least favorite include joints such as the wrist or ankles because those injuries can lead to loss of range of motion or early arthritis. Xan shared that it can be very busy especially when you’re on call and have to leave on a moment’s notice once your cell phone or pager rings. One of the girls asked “What’s a pager?” while another commented, “You still have those?” Those comments left all of us adults laughing.

Xan is in a branch of the medical field that is dominated by males. She shared that only 13% of orthopedics are females, and she has encountered this gender disparity throughout her studies and career. “Attending Dartmouth for my orthopedic internship and residency, I was the only female there,” says Dr. Courville. “Many times I had to win over the support of the men. Going through as a female I had to learn to navigate and show that I worked just as hard or harder than the men in the class. I needed to prove myself and I never wanted to look any different or be treated any different than them.” she added. It was great to hear that Xan didn’t let the gender barrier discourage her from pursuing her passion, regardless of the fact that she was the only female in her class. (The above quotes are from summitorthopanorama.com)

After our time at Summit Orthopedics, we went to Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge to spend some time with Margie Gilmon Ph.D., WHNP, RN. Margie shared about her nursing career where she worked as a camp and staff nurse, as well as a hospital nursing supervisor. She spent time in Alaska working with very rural communities, where her commute included flying on a float plane between the different remote towns. After her extensive nursing career, she knew she wanted to teach. She went back to get her Ph.D. and now she is a professor at CMC.

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The girls visited the Nursing Lab where they first tested their 12 cranial nerves. These nerves can be seen on the bottom of the brain and can send information from sensory organs to the brain, control muscles, or are connected to internal organs. The girls tested their senses - sight, smell, hearing, touch - and tested certain muscles by following eye movement, pushing their shoulders up against someone else pushing down, making really big smiling faces, and sticking out their tongues (mostly at each other!)

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We also got to interact with one of the mannequins in the nursing lab as well. Margie said that the professors use the mannequins to model different medical scenarios so nursing students can practice their skills. The girls used stethoscopes to listen to the breathing, heartbeat, and stomach noises. The mannequin’s eyes reacted the same way our pupils do, and the girls got a kick out of the fact that the mannequin blinked. In my opinion, the girls had the best reactions when they finally heard the heart or when Margie had the mannequin talk and/or yell at them.

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The girls also learned about basic wound care and splinting. All of our instructors are certified in wilderness medicine, so we had the girls practice protecting themselves, applying pressure to a wound, keeping a wound clean, and dressing a wound.

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The girls used the Design Thinking Process to create a splint during a mock scenario - their friend fell and hurt her arm while on a cross country skiing outing, and only had the materials given. Each group shared their trial and error process and the girls were very creative in their designs as they used cross country skis, poles, jacket, fleece, scarf, and socks. Our instructors and High School Mentors were good sports as the girls worked to create the best splints they could with the materials given!

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After practicing their first aid skills, the girls decorated and created their own personal first aid kits. These starter first aid kits included gloves, various sized band-aids, alcohol wipes, gauze, and anti-itch cream.

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The next morning we visited the local hospital - St. Anthony Summit Medical Center. We met up with Jill Boyle MS, RN, who gave us a tour through the various locations within the hospital. Jill is a Forensic Nurse and an Associate Professor in the Nursing college at CMC. We visited the ER and got to see inside a trauma room, which had the most medical technology we had seen in one place. We visited radiology and got up close and personal to a CT scanner and looked at some 3D images, another kind of imaging we hadn’t seen at Summit Orthopedics. We walked through a portion of the surgical area and ironically saw Dr. Corville who we had met the day before! The girls got to look at platelets and blood samples, as well as look at a blood sample under the microscope. We visited the maternity ward to see a newborn baby that was only a day old! We met some of the pharmacy staff who shared that they use a lot of chemistry and math on a daily basis as they work with prescriptions. One of the pharmacists shared that the pharmacy staff in the hospital is almost all women. This was awesome to hear because pharmacy has been a profession that has been closing the gender gap over the past 30 years.

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We also got to visit the highest altitude helicopter base in the country and meet the Flight for Life team that was on call that day, Ed, Britton, and Maureen. The team always consists of a pilot, paramedic, and RN. Each role requires a lot of time as a paramedic or an RN before joining a flight team, and Ed said most pilots come from a military background. The girls asked about the different experiences between Britton and Maureen because even though they had different experiences and education, both are now on the Flight for Life team. Maureen shared that to be a nurse, you need a nursing degree and that most nurses work directly within a team and doctor’s orders at a patient’s bedside; she worked many years in the ICU. Britton shared that paramedics do not need a degree, just certifications, and often work one-on-one with emergency patients. He said that the combination of ICU nursing experience and 9-1-1 emergency experience provide the best skill set combination for the Flight for Life team to care for their patients.

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The helicopter is always ready for takeoff and equipped with all the medical technology the team needs, including blood that they get from the lab each morning in case a patient needs a blood transfusion. During the winter the helicopter has skis attached to the bottom of the landing gear, so it can land at the local ski resorts when called for injuries as well as work with the ski patrol avalanche deployment programs. Maureen said that summer is usually the busiest season, and Ed pulled out the night vision goggles that clip onto the team’s helmets for night flights. Britton let us check out the Flight for Life ambulance, that has the same capabilities as the helicopter and is able to do more than a standard 9-1-1 ambulance.

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Each one of our STEM mentors shared that they love their job because they get to care for and help other people. It was great for the girls to see such a wide variety of career paths within the medical field.

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