training its future doctors
The Arizona Republic
Jul. 3, 2004 12:00 AM
Exceptional students at
Rebekah Wangusi, 17, and her family fled Kenya three years ago to escape
what she calls the African country's "economic instability."
But it was more than that, she said. City-paid paramedics demanded bribes to
transport injured patients to the hospital, where they would likely get care
only if they were rich. Treatment came too late for patients who delayed
going to the hospital because they had no money. Her father, a pharmacist in
the city of Eldoret, did what he could.
She remembers watching him treat the wounds of people injured in car crashes
or fights, sometimes giving them medicine and hoping they would somehow get
"This is what inspired me to go into the medical field," she said.
And she's taken the first big steps.
Already, she has completed certified nurses' training as a high school
student. And she is one of 20 Valley-wide high schoolers attending the
seven-week Arizona Health Academy at Maricopa Medical Center. The
10-year-old program supported by a $65,000 federal grant, is designed to
nudge exceptional minority and students like Rebekah into the medical field.
Geoff Godfrey, a registered nurse and the program's director, said Maricopa
Medical Center is an example of a hospital that needs minority medical
Two-thirds of the hospital's patients are Hispanic. Of those, 50 percent
speak only Spanish. By contrast, Hispanics make up only 20 percent of the
"I see that as a disparity," he said.
During their training, academy students witness the hope of a pediatric
unit, a respiratory therapist at work and the drama of childbirth.
The last week of the program, they will visit the Hopi and Navajo
reservations to deepen their understanding of Indian health care. Some will
simmer in a Navajo sweat lodge to appreciate non-traditional methods of
On a recent afternoon, Wangusi and Maria Aguirre, 16, another academy
student, were in the hospital's labor and delivery unit.
They listened as Celie Schoustra, another registered nurse, explained that
her patient Karissa Sarabia, 21, had come to the hospital to stop the
contractions that could mean the too-early birth of her 33-week-old twins.
"We gave her shots to develop the babies lungs," she told the girls, who
stood nearby. "And every four hours we listen to her heart and lungs and the
babies' to see that they are breathing OK."
Schoustraunfurled the electronic tracings of the babies' hearts and the
mother's contractions, explaining that the three-pound infants were doing
Schoustra welcomes the students into her world.
"They are great," she said. "They are very intelligent, ask good questions
and very appropriate in everything they do," she said.
Aguirre, an Alhambra High School honor student, relishes being in the labor
and delivery unit.
She wants to be an obstetrician-gynecologist, because, she said, "It's
fascinating to see new life come into the world.
"You can see the veins on the surgeons' hands as they press on the uterus
and hear the swish of the amniotic fluid."
But still she is seduced by the stars and plans to "double major" in
Wangusi, also an honor student and a Mesa Westwood High School runner, wants
first to study bioengineering and then be an emergency-room doctor.
Her medical training so far has deepened her appreciation of the
fast-closing circle of life.
During her nursing assistant training she helped clean the body of a patient
who had died.
At Maricopa Medical Center she has watched babies squirm to life.
"It is one extreme to the other," she said. "Life is so very short. You have
to do as much as you can in between."
Godfrey, the program coordinator, says he is convinced that the more than
170 students who have come through the program will "do as much" as they
Competition is stiff. Of 160 applicants this year, only the 20 who were most
"driven, enthusiastic, problem solvers who don't take the middle of the
road" were chosen.
One of those is Sonia Aguila, 20, a former Gilbert High School student, who
graduated from the health academy in 2001. She is among the 100percent of
academy students who have entered college or university, most with a
A junior at the University of Arizona, she is majoring in public health and
wants to be an ER nurse.