Community service isn’t an easy or obvious fit for anesthesiologists. Our natural habitat is the OR or ICU. But many of us do feel a need to give something back to our communities. The question is, how to do it?
Back in 2016, the California Society of Anesthesiologists (CSA) decided to tackle this question in earnest. We were fortunate that our Executive Director, David Butler, had previous experience working with a national nonprofit organization called Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a creator of innovative, project-based STEM curricula for K-12 classrooms. One PLTW pathway is biomedical science for high school students.
Who could be better than anesthesiology residents to talk with students about biomedical science? Within the next year, residents from UCLA’s Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine started visiting classrooms at three area high schools that offer the PLTW biomedical curriculum, bringing with them intubation mannikins, laryngoscopes, and a zest for conveying to the students what an amazing profession anesthesiology is (asamonitor.pub/3O4lWWQ).
Fast forward six years. Despite a forced hiatus in personal site visits during the pandemic, the partnership between UCLA Anesthesiology and CSA to support local high school biomedical programs has thrived under the vibrant leadership of Assistant Clinical Professor Sophia Poorsattar, MD, who specializes in liver transplant and cardiothoracic anesthesiology.
This spring, Dr. Poorsattar coordinated a remarkable event for nearly 100 students from Venice High School and El Segundo High School in the ORs of UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center. Residents set up three teaching stations in separate ORs – one each to demonstrate intraoperative monitoring, airway management, and point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS). The students, resplendent in bunny suits, bouffant caps, and masks, rotated among the three stations with plenty of opportunity for questions and hands-on practice.
“It’s impossible to be cynical watching a high school student pick up a fiberoptic bronchoscope for the first time or gaze intently at the real-time image of a fellow student’s heart on transthoracic echo. These students are the future, and – who knows? – they may become the anesthesiologists who will take care of us one day.”
“This experience was something that I will remember for the rest of my life,” one student exclaimed. Said another, in a thank-you note, “I truly adored all the immersive aspects from this field trip, and it is an experience I will never forget. Thank you for the opportunity to be hands on with your medical interventions and all the support that you guys radiate. I truly appreciate it!”
Dr. Poorsattar points out that many of the students who attended the UCLA site visit are from disadvantaged backgrounds and might never consider professional careers in healthcare without this kind of encouragement.
“The curriculum we support in the schools has proven positive outcomes in student achievement, equity, and interest in STEM careers,” she says.
“The primary value of our PLTW partnerships is to encourage young people to persist and excel in their academic pursuits in high school,” says Mr. Butler. “To the degree that our anesthesiology residents can inspire high school students to pursue careers in health care, medicine, and perhaps anesthesiology, that’s icing on the cake!”
How did CSA get this program started?
It may sound simple – let’s get some residents to go visit classrooms! – but a lot of background work occurred behind the initial launch of the partnership among CSA, UCLA, and PLTW.
- Would residents want to bother visiting high school classrooms? The answer was a definitive “yes”! Not only is the program popular among the residents, but it also serves as a draw among medical students considering their residency options.
- Would there be any liability concerns in sponsoring off-site visits for residents or hosting high school students on the UCLA campus? No; the residents are adults who volunteer to go, and the students’ visits to the UCLA Simulation Center, laboratories, and operating rooms are no different from any other authorized field trip with transportation by school bus.
CSA’s Board of Directors also had questions, first about how we could support PLTW financially without spending limited organizational funds. We wanted donors to be able to deduct contributions from their taxes, which wouldn’t be possible given CSA’s 501c6 status. We saw the PLTW partnerships as the start of a vision to honor the history and invest in the future of anesthesiology in California.
The solution was to create the CSA Foundation for Education and incorporate it as a California nonprofit, public-benefit corporation entirely separate from CSA, with its own set of books and Board of Directors. The Foundation accepts unrestricted contributions. Its first major donation came from the Arthur E. Guedel Memorial Anesthesia Center in San Francisco, in memory of Dr. Guedel, one of the great California pioneers in anesthesiology. Merlin Larson, MD, and Selma Calmes, MD, two well-known scholars of anesthesiology history, worked closely with CSA to arrange the donation.
The Foundation has supported the CSA-PLTW partnership to date by committing up to $5,000 per school site per year for teacher training in the biomedical science curriculum, ensuring the program’s continuity even if there is staff turnover at the school site. The current President of the Foundation is Mark Zakowski, MD, FASA, a past CSA President. The Foundation also supports a “History of Anesthesia in California” essay contest for residents and soon will support resident research grants.
Since the original launch of the partnership with UCLA Anesthesiology, CSA expanded the program in 2019 with Stanford’s Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine. They are working with two public high schools in San Jose and one in Palo Alto.
This spring, CSA and UC Davis have launched a third PLTW partnership with three public high schools in the Sacramento area, inviting students to visit their simulation center and going to classrooms to offer “lectures on pulmonary anatomy and physiology, workshops on inventing tools for endotracheal intubation, hands-on airway workshops, and a pathway to medicine panel” (asamonitor.pub/3Px9O1K).
Side benefits in advocacy
Some of us are natural wizards – ASAPAC Board Chair Paul Yost, MD, FASA, comes to mind – at forging strong alliances with legislators and regulators, happy to knock on their doors and engage them in discussing all kinds of issues important to the profession of anesthesiology. Others, myself included, are not. I didn’t even like selling Girl Scout cookies.
But community service benefiting our high schools is something that we can all be proud to tell our local lawmakers about, and they are glad to hear of our work on behalf of their constituents and families.
During the first year of our UCLA program, State Senator Ben Allen presented CSA with a Certificate of Recognition honoring the work. Assemblymember Evan Low spoke at the launch of Stanford’s program at Willow Glen High School in San Jose. Representatives from the offices of Assemblymembers Jim Cooper and Kevin McCarty congratulated teachers and students at the spring UC Davis launch event.
It’s impossible to be cynical watching a high school student pick up a fiberoptic bronchoscope for the first time or gaze intently at the real-time image of a fellow student’s heart on transthoracic echo. These students are the future, and – who knows? – they may become the anesthesiologists who will take care of us one day.