In one corner, a group of giggling teenagers snapped pictures of themselves suited up for surgery: zip-up suits, hairnets, shoe booties, face masks and all.
In another, students worked in pairs to maneuver a laparoscopic camera and surgical clamps to practice picking up tiny, hard-to-grasp objects like paper clips and salt packets.
“It's just like playing 'Operation,' ” one student said.
Ninety anatomy and physiology students from Omaha Central High School got a rare peek this week at the inner workings of a hospital as they toured a surgical suite at Creighton University Medical Center and met with doctors, nurses and medical device sales reps whose careers they may one day emulate.
John Morley, Central's anatomy and physiology teacher, said that in past years, he's asked local hospitals to donate some equipment to his class, gathering items such as surgical scrubs and gloves for kids to try on.
This year, he made the same call to CUMC and asked if a surgeon might be able to visit the class and talk about their career path. CUMC officials offered him one better: Why not bring his four classes to the hospital to get a firsthand look at life in the health care sector?
“In 10 years, these guys are going to be at the start of their careers and the top of their fields, and we want to give them a taste of their future,” said Lisa Paulsen, CUMC's clinical educator for surgical services.
Alegent Creighton Health also hosts Papillion-La Vista's Health Systems Academy at its Midlands Hospital in Papillion for high school students interested in exploring different medical careers.
On Thursday and Friday, Paulsen guided small groups through a CUMC surgical suite used for routine surgeries like appendectomies and gallbladder removal. She showed a simulation dummy named Carl and a table's worth of sharp, glittering medical instruments: scalpels, rakes and a retractor that holds skin back during surgeries.
“Oh, that's scary,” one student exclaimed during Thursday's tour.
Students peppered Paulsen with questions: What's that instrument used for? How many people make up a surgical team? What happens if you accidentally leave sponges or gauze inside a patient?
“Those are called never-ever events, because you never, ever want that to happen,” Paulsen said, explaining that doctors and nurses count their instruments before and after each procedure.
Earlier in the morning, students heard from orthopedic surgeon Dr. Thomas Connolly, who outlined the years of schooling needed to become a doctor. Several students said they were intimidated but undeterred at the thought of medical school or the rigorous training for other jobs such as nurses or physical therapists — not to mention the 80-hour workweeks some resident physicians log.
“The thought of all that school is scary,” Central senior Marshaunna Martin said.
“It's going to be like 10 to 15 years before I can get a job,” Central senior Kennedy Leach said. “I'm going to be 32 when I first start.”
But the group of 17-year-old girls agreed that the pay-off — a good-paying job, years of medical training and the chance to help patients heal — was worth it.
“If you're going to do this, you have to want it,” Central senior Ashley Swift said.
“You have to be dedicated,” senior Nyesha Deevers chimed in.
Morley estimated out of his four anatomy and physiology classes, about 20 to 25 students know they want to pursue a career in medicine or health care, one of the fastest-growing employment sectors.
According to a Brookings Institute Report released earlier this summer, the number of U.S. health care jobs has grown by 22.7 percent over the last decade, far outpacing the 2.1 percent employment growth rate recorded for all other job fields.
“We wanted to show the students this is not 'Grey's Anatomy,' that there aren't people running around screaming in an OR,” Morley said. “It's not chaotic, it's orderly, even. To the people who work here, it's just an everyday job.”