Placer students engage in live teleconferences with local physician

Apple tech brings professional insight into the classroom
By: Andrew Westrope,
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Modern technology has made real-world learning more accessible than ever to anatomy and physiology students at Placer High School, offering a glimpse of job shadowing in the digital age.

Approximately every other week, Dr. Mark Vaughan of Auburn Medical Group, Inc. joins Thomas Schroeder’s class of juniors and seniors for a question and answer session. He engages them, responds to questions about their current chapter of study, shares anecdotes from his own experience and generally leads them in a discussion of healthcare topics. After 15 minutes, the students return to their regular classwork and Vaughan to his patients at the push of a button, having never left the comfort of his office more than four miles away.

Schroeder and his students have face-to-face conversations with Vaughan through FaceTime, Apple’s proprietary video conferencing software that came with a set of 40 iPads purchased for the science department by the school district last year. With educational tools like these at their fingertips, Schroeder said his students have easy access to knowledge and opportunities that were unaffordable or nonexistent just a few years earlier.

“I think it’s really positive, because they’re seeing what they’re learning, but from a clinical perspective. It’s not just something on the board, but this is how a doctor deals with this in his context,” he said. “We have a lot of kids who are interested in the medical field, and I think it just makes them that much more – ‘This is cool, this makes sense.’”

Consulting Vaughan’s projected image on an overhead screen in their classroom on Friday, the students heard his firsthand clinical perspective on their questions about lyme disease, shin splints, pregnancy nutrition, the physiology of adrenaline and the benefits and pitfalls of using creatine for workouts.

Schroeder said the teleconferences started last October, months after he met Vaughan as the parent of one of his students. The two initially considered having Vaughan visit the class as a guest speaker, but after the district bought the iPads, Vaughan’s background in broadcasting made video conferencing the most convenient arrangement.

Schroeder said the personal and improvisational nature of the conversations, as opposed to the usual textbook lessons, sparks more curiosity in the students and affords a wider range of questions. Once when a patient had agreed to let the students watch Vaughan conduct a clinical interview, they observed Vaughan’s questions, advice and manner with the patient, then used their own smart phones to fact-check and follow along with his diagnosis.

“They were talking about medications, and he said, ‘That’s a new medication,’” Schroeder recalled. “As soon as he said that, the kids brought out their phones and looked it up.”

Seventeen-year-old  Stephanie Sykora, a senior, said it was an invaluable experience she had never had in any class before.

“It’s a great opportunity for us,” she said. “It’s a big difference, getting information from a real doctor instead of a textbook.”

Classmate Michael Valdez agreed, and added the iPads are also useful study and research tools with special online programs and downloadable applications. He said the teleconferences with Vaughan, though, are where the iPads transcend the possibility of a textbook.

“We get to talk, one on one, with someone who actually does what we’re learning about. We actually get a little bit of hands-on learning,” he said. “You get to see real-life situations that aren’t always covered in the book.”

For Vaughan, who said he loves connecting with eager young minds, the FaceTime sessions have been an encouraging experiment in luring a new generation of aspiring physicians into the fold.

“These are specifically, for the most part, upper classmen who are interested in healthcare careers, so I’m hoping that it’s inspirational for those who are called to healthcare careers,” he said. “I hope they’ll have some inspiration to carry them through the next stage of their training.”