MODESTO — It wasn't quite a royal birth, but the simulated delivery of a newborn caused a lot of excitement for high schoolers at Kaiser Permanente's Modesto Medical Center.
Lucy Vang, 17, of Stockton hopes to become an obstetrician and said time in the simulation lab Thursday was inspiring. "We got to see the baby coming out. It was the first time I've seen a birth," she said.
As often happens in the teaching lab, the simulation went south as soon as the newborn arrived, giving students practice they need without any lives on the line. "The baby couldn't breathe, so it was a really critical time," said the O.B.-to-be.
But the tense moments only served to convince her this is where she wants to be.
That pivot point for juniors and seniors is the essence of Decision Medicine, a summer program of the San Joaquin Medical Society that included the Kaiser tour. The two-week program exposes San Joaquin County students to careers in health care.
While the simulation held the heart-pounding action, teens said equally helpful was a free-flowing question-and-answer session with Kaiser doctors. Questions spanned paying for medical school to talking with patients, to why doctors chose their specialties.
"The fact that we can talk to doctors is really helpful, being able to pull information from them that only someone who went through it would know," said Ian Collis, 16, of Linden.
Dr. John de Graft-Johnson said he chose thoracic and vascular surgery because the top two things Americans die from are cardiac problems and cancer.
"It's about making a difference," he said. "To this day it still amazes me what is done in this field."
Like several others on the panel, de Graft-Johnson is a veteran. The military paid for his medical training in exchange for equal years of service.
Losing a patient, he said, is the hardest thing for him. "No matter how hard you work, no matter how hard you try. Some day it's going to happen. Somebody will die in your hands," de Graft-Johnson said.
Studying more, talking with mentors and making sure patients make informed decisions are how he gets through it, he said. "If you did everything you could you do not have the G.O.D. degree, and that's OK."
Dr. Mohammad Javaid said medical schools in his native Pakistan had thousands of applicants for each opening. There, as here, students have to keep grades up and avoid distractions. "Focus on your classes. Get the best out of them," he advised.
Family practitioner Dr. James Redula said despite high grades he didn't get into med school for two years and worked in a research lab. "It was very discouraging," he said, but he had to overcome his shyness to interview well and also to work with patients. Redula said he sees 20 patients a day in a clinic setting.
Medical school, he said, takes discipline. "It isn't all 'Friday night go out for pizza' when you have a test on Monday," he said with a grin.
Asked what he did if a patient refuses help, Redula said he tries to give information to help patients understand why a change is needed. "My role is to advocate for the patient, and sometimes a patient is their own worst enemy," he said.
Kelsea Kerr, who holds a doctorate in pharmacology, said she monitors prescriptions for hospital patients who may be served by several physicians. "I'm like the medication safety officer," she said.
Pediatrician Michael Rehbein told the students it takes determination to become a doctor. "It's is not easy. It takes a lot of work, but there's a lot of joy along the way," he said. "It's a profession that does make a difference."