Doctors hope science gets under PHS students' skin

Classroom becomes operating room
By: Tricia Caspers, Columnist
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Placer High School teacher Thomas Schroeder has a typical science laboratory classroom. There are desks, sinks, specimens floating in jars of formaldehyde, skeletons and organ models, but last Friday the classroom was turned into a surgical theater as Dr. Gawayne Vaughan excised a cyst from the neck of Dr. Mark Vaughan before the students’ eyes.

“Everything we learn I try to tie in as much as possible to (the students’) own bodies,” Schroeder said. “It makes it that much more interesting.”

The 30 juniors and seniors in Schroeder’s anatomy and physiology class are currently learning about blood and lymph in the circulatory system.

 On Friday, just before lunch time, the science lab was full of the usual students as well as the principal, vice-principal and a few coaches who acted as bouncers for wayward students who tried to elbow into the show.

As the students found their seats, Drs. Gawayne and Mark Vaughan — a nephew and uncle duo from Auburn Medical Group — explained to the students that Dr. Mark Vaughan had a subcutaneous cyst that needed to be removed, and after creating a sterile field, Dr. Gawayne Vaughan would remove it. The entire surgery was filmed and shown on a large screen in front of the class, as well as broadcast worldwide via Periscope.

“This has possibly never been done in a (high school) classroom before,” Dr. Gawayne Vaughan said.

The students were in high spirits as Dr. Mark Vaughan lay on a table in front of the class and Dr. Gawayne Vaughan prepared to numb the area of his patient’s neck.

“Ooh, that’s a really long needle,” said Principal Peter Efstathiu.

The students gasped and some turned away as the needle was inserted under the patient’s skin.

As the procedure continued, Schroeder and Dr. Gawayne Vaughan asked the students anatomy questions about Langer lines and the three layers of skin. The doctors also answered questions that appeared on screen from the online audience. Multi-colored cartoon hearts floated up the screen, expressing online viewers’ enjoyment of the performance.

All chatting stopped and the room went silent as Dr. Gawayne Vaughan began cutting open his uncle’s cyst. The students watched in horrified fascination, if the looks on their faces were any indication.

“We cut along the Langer lines, so that people will heal quicker, (and) older people have wrinkles along the Langer lines which make it easier to find them,” Dr. Gawayne Vaughan said, laughing.

After the surgery, there was a debriefing period for students to ask questions, and the Vaughan doctors agreed that the response was positive.

“Nobody passed out, so that was good,” Dr. Gawayne Vaughan said, jokingly.

The goal of the doctors – who graduated from Placer High about 12 years apart – was to inspire the students to look into the medical field.

“Years down the road when students are choosing professions … some will possibly (choose) healthcare,” Dr. Mark Vaughan said.

His own decision to go into healthcare was influenced by Jerry Fonda, who taught at E.V. Cain STEM Charter School for 40 years as well as Harry Hickman who taught science at the high school.

Dr. Gawayne Vaughan said his teachers at Placer also played a part in his decision to go to medical school. His biggest inspiration, though? That was his uncle.

Reach Tricia Caspers-Ross at