Program gives students chance to learn about health care careers

FINGER ON THE PULSE: Alesia Carpenter, manager of Mission Hospital's simulation lab, shows students how to check the pulse of a mannequin designed to demonstrate the process of giving birth. The students are, from left, Kaylee Lorenzen, Peyton Johnson and Tabis Gore. Photo by Clarke Morrison

The high school students craned their necks to get a good look at the mechanical mannequin that was about to give birth.

“She’s contracting every three minutes now,” said Alesia Carpenter, a registered nurse. As manager of the simulation lab, she led the simulated birth in a Mission Hospital suite.

A monitor displayed the makeshift mom’s vital signs. “She’s pretty comfortable,” said Carpenter. “We’ve got to get her feet up.”

Delivery time came minutes later. “I need someone to catch the baby,” said Carpenter, calling on a student to assist. “Push her legs back a little bit. I want you to hold that head and pull just a little bit.”

The task fell to Peyton Johnson, a Roberson High junior who is considering a career as a labor-and-delivery nurse or a pediatric surgeon.

“It was cool to see how hard it actually is for the mother to deliver a baby and the way it came out,”  said Johnson. “You have to go in there and help her a lot and actually pull the baby out as she’s pushing, so it’s really difficult.”

The session was part of Mission Possible, a collaboration between Mission Hospital, Asheville City High Schools, Buncombe County Schools and private schools in Buncombe. With its two-week summer internship, the program gives Asheville and Buncombe high school students a taste of what it’s like to work in a hospital-based medical profession. Students get to see doctors, nurses and technicians at work in complex environments. They also observe clinical and nonclinical areas of the hospital, including diagnostic, therapeutic and emergency services. And there’s a focus on the importance of wellness, nutrition, stress reduction and healthy lifestyles.

“I think it’s great,” Johnson says. “Getting to walk around the hospital and seeing all the different possibilities is really eye-opening. We get to go to all the different departments and learn a little bit about each one. It gets your mind going on what you want to do.”

Career development

Ben Napper, coordinator for Mission’s Center for Leadership and Professional Development, says the program is part of the hospital system’s workforce development effort.

“Getting people interested in health care in general, especially at a young age, is important to us,” he says. “As Bruce Springsteen said, ‘You can’t start a fire without a spark.’ We don’t necessarily know exactly when that spark will happen or what it will be, but I feel like going around meeting people who are actually doing it every day and going through what it takes to get into the health care industry, [students] get a lot of good influences and they feel a lot more confident heading into college about what their next step is going to be.”

For eight years, Mission Possible organizers have recruited juniors and seniors from Asheville and Buncombe County schools. Admission is based on a student’s grade-point average, essays, interviews and a desire to pursue a career in health care. The program is held on the hospital campus in Asheville.

This summer, a selection committee composed of Mission Hospital and school representatives reviewed nearly 100 student transcripts and applications; then they picked 30 students to participate.

“We received over 80 applications, so it was definitely tough to narrow it down,” Napper says. “It’s always tough, because there’s a lot of great high school kids in this community. To me, it’s awesome to see young people engaged and wanting to go out and learn about opportunities and what they can do to take the next step for their careers.”

Future choices

Jacob Wiegman, an Asheville High senior, says Mission Possible showed him career choices that he hadn’t considered.

“I’ve always been interested in cardiology because of family history and that kind of thing,” he says. “My uncle was born with three heart chambers and was given a day to live, and he lived to be 34. Right now I think I want to be a cardiac thoracic surgeon, but honestly, after [taking] this program, it’s really hard to pinpoint. This way you get to experience a lot of different things and hear from people who are in it day to day, versus your own personal research.”

Kaylee Lorenzen, a junior at Asheville High’s School of Inquiry and Life Sciences, says Mission Possible provided a positive experience. She was inspired to go into the medical field by her mother, she says.

“My mom’s a nurse, so I’ve been raised in a household where the medical talk was always there,” Lorenzen says. “And it’s just really uplifting to hear all her stories about helping patients and stuff, and I’ve always just really wanted to be able to help patients.”

Lorenzen said she’s considering a nonclinical field, such as overseeing patient safety and quality care.

“Being able to come [to the hospital] and see what everyone does is just really amazing, seeing all the different aspects and how it’s not just the doctors,” she says. “It’s people who don’t always get the credit.”

Another participant, Asheville High junior Tabis Gore, says the program gave him valuable insights into what it’s like to work in a hospital setting.

“I want to become a general surgeon, and … why not accept this opportunity about the career choice that I want to take?” he says. “I’ve learned a lot of stuff that I didn’t know before.”

Napper says the Mission Possible program aims to help students meet their career goals as well as encourage the development of future employees and meet the community’s demand for health care professionals.

“They may not end up working for Mission one day,” he says, “but by getting them interested in health care early and helping them identify what it is they’re interested in, we’re giving them a leg up heading into college.”


For more information about Mission Possible, go to


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