Students Learn about Health and Health Careers at UNM

October 2013

Have you ever been to a BATCAVE?  Middle school students from Cuba, Lybrook, and Coronado Middle Schools have – but not the bat cave where Batman lives.  Students at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, NM train to become doctors and nurses at a special facility called the BATCAVE (Basic Advanced Trauma Computer Assisted Virtual Experience).  In the BATCAVE, students are able to practice and learn with mannequins that mimic breathing, heart beats, even blinking!  Using a computer, instructors control the mannequin to simulate medical symptoms and the students try to determine the condition and appropriate treatment.

Thanks to the enthusiasm and commitment of the students’ science teachers: Ms. Mary Lou Gorris and Mr. Gary Hoodless at Cuba Middle School, Ms. Marietta Hoodless and Ms. Kellie Sanchez at Lybrook Middle School, and Ms. Chanda Reburiano at Coronado Middle School, 169 middle school students were able to visit the BATCAVE and other facilities in the UNM Health Sciences Center.  The field trips were a part of the New Mexico SEPA (Science Education Partnership Award) project with the University of New Mexico’s Prevention Research Center.  The project seeks to introduce students to science careers and increase students’ interest and knowledge in science, health, nutrition, and fitness.

In addition to learning with the mannequins in the BATCAVE, students learned other skills practiced by health science professionals.  They tested their hand-eye coordination: using graspers, pegs, and rubber bands as a way to practice laparoscopic surgery (a procedure for examining and operating inside a patient using very small video cameras). 

Some students visited the Bionutrition Unit, where Dr. Diana Gonzales-Pacheco showed the students two ways to measure the amount of muscle and fat in the body, and the correct way to measure height and weight in order to calculate BMI (Body Mass Index) from those measurements.  She explained to students that weight and BMI aren’t always the best indicators of health.  For example, NFL players weigh a lot, but their weight is composed of muscles, not fat.  What is more important than weight is our body composition (amount of body fat and muscle) and the fitness of our hearts.

In the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine, some students visited Tereassa Archibeque, a Respiratory Therapist.  Respiratory Therapists work to help patients in the hospital breathe comfortably, through equipment and medication.  Students learned about the mechanics of breathing, how to measure the force of one’s breathe, and what it means to have asthma.

Eighth graders at Cuba Middle School visited the Department of Pathology where Dr. Margaret Alba taught about the science of the cause and effect of diseases.  Dr. Alba described symptoms as told by patients.  Then, students had fun trying to identify the disease or condition based on the evidence.

Lastly, Coronado students visited the School of Dental Medicine where they saw patients receiving dental cleanings, watched a dental assistant make a mouth guard by heating and cooling plastic, and learned that the first step towards a career in dental hygiene is studying in science class now. 

These engaging activities gave students insight on what it means to train for or work in health science careers.  Marco Gutierrez, an 8th grade student at Coronado Middle School, was always curious about these jobs, but said that the field trip really helped solidify his interest in health science careers.  He said, “With the UNM students, I was able to ask about how it is in college, how to do things financially, and how hard it is compared to high school and middle school.”  His favorite part of the trip was being able to use the equipment at the School of Dental Medicine.