Students get a hands-on look at medical work

May. 23, 2014 @ 08:20 AM

Cynthia Poteet carefully pulled the cap off the needle and, with her other hand, felt for a vein. Though she is only 17 and is just learning the ways of nursing, she confidently plunged the needle deep into the patient’s arm. Dr. David Abernethy stood back and smiled.

“I’ve always liked to teach,” Abernethy, owner of Caldwell Industrial Medicine on Mulberry Street, said afterward. “I like to see students move forward, whatever it is they are studying.”

The "patient" and arm Poteet practiced on were not real. The fake arm is among the props used by Poteet and a dozen other students from West Caldwell High School for a Health Science II class taught by Abernethy. As part of the two-semester program, the students spent two weeks at the Abernethy’s practice, and at Lenoir Living Center, getting practical, first-hand experience outside of a classroom setting. When they graduate from the program, they will have a jump on other students enrolling in nursing programs after high school.

“They’re learning how to interview patients, write up vital signs, learning medical codes and actually seeing patients,” Abernethy said.

Abernethy started the practice in 1980 after earning his medical degree from Wake Forest's Bowman Gray School of Medicine in Winston-Salem. His sights were set on eventually teaching, and he began work on his Ph.D. But his thriving practice derailed that dream, and so he focused on treating patients.

Five years ago, Abernethy partnered with Caldwell County Schools to impart his knowledge at West Caldwell High with the introduction of classes in medical science, which taught basic nursing. The program has garnered positive reviews from students, some of whom hope to pursue careers in the medical field.

“I’ve definitely learned a lot,” said 17-year old Hailey Shell, a junior. “At first, I was kind of iffy about the medical field. This week has shown me I want to be in a doctor’s office.”

Eriqua McClendon, 15, said the experience has made her set her sights higher. “Seeing what Dr. Abernethy does, I now want to go farther than just being a nurse. I want to be a doctor,” she said.

Lizeth Rodriguez, 17, always second-guessed herself when it came to a career choice. She said the last few days have given her a glimpse into a possible career down the road.

“I loved my experience here. This has allowed me to see behind the closed doors of an office. I can see myself 10 years from now working at a hospice or a nursing home,” she said.

In three weeks, the students will take a state test to pass the course. Abernethy knows not all will become nurses or doctors. But he hopes the seed has been planted for those who do.

“If anything, the experience will spurn interest in the medical field,” Abernethy said. “The idea is that these kind of jobs won’t be sent overseas. Job stability is important.”