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Teens explore futures in health care

Minutes after hopping into the back of a Northwell Health ambulance, Nsikak Ekong had his adrenaline pumping.

"We're heading to a motor vehicle accident," called Jason Groff, the paramedic driving the ambulance.

Excuse Nsikak's zeal for the situation. The 18-year-old Hempstead resident was on his first ride-along. And while the response to the car crash - a nonviolent collision on Fulton Street in Hempstead - was more precautionary than urgent, it gave him a glimpse of what emergency medical technicians do every day.

It was the first of three calls that gave Nsikak hands-on experience with his studies in the Explorers Program of the Northwell Health Center for Emergency Services (CEMS).

A partnership between Northwell and the Village of Hempstead, the program gives teenagers free EMS mentorship and training. At twice-monthly meetings, participants engage in scenario-based learning and work toward certification in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

"We reenact a car accident and have the students treat patients. We reenact a mass casualty incident and have them do triage," said Bernard Robinson, CEMS operations manager and Explorers director. "Some of it is lecture-based, but the way to learn is by doing it."

Developing skills not traditionally gained in an academic setting, students may focus on fracture management and how to splint broken arms and legs, or on controlling blood loss.

"I learned a lot about first aid," said Nsikak, who is pursuing an engineering degree at Hofstra University. "They gave us different techniques in CPR and how to save lives."

The Explorers Program began in 2012, a tumultuous time in the village, marred by violence that left dozens dead or wounded. Mr. Robinson thought the village was the right home because of Northwell's ties to the area. Hempstead was the fourth village to enlist CEMS for emergency services and transportation that year, and Pastor Scott Williams immediately opened the doors of Christ's First Presbyterian Church as the biweekly meeting place for the Explorers.

Mr. Robinson also teamed with Tamara Darien, a forensics teacher at Hempstead High. Ms. Darien has helped identify potential Explorers and Mr. Robinson has presented CPR techniques in her classes.

"We get a lot of great feedback about the program," Mr. Robinson said. "We are gaining the school and village's trust."

Perhaps that's because it's been so successful. At least 18 participants enroll in the program every year. Nsikak is now the fourth Explorer to attend college, with others studying at Hampton University, Howard University and John Jay College.

Mr. Robinson hopes an Explorer will pursue EMT school. Students' interest in the program make that just a matter of time.

"EMS is a good way to find out what you are interested in," Mr. Robinson said. "It can lead to many different avenues - law enforcement, deeper into medicine, medical school, RN. The sky is the limit."

Serving the underserved

CEMS Explorers is just one way Northwell offers career coaching and insight into the community. Other programs include:

  • The Medical Scholars Pipeline, a four-year program that gives high school and college students insider perspectives on health care, creating competitive future applicants to colleges, medical schools and other professional schools and careers. More than 80 students have participated, and all have enrolled in college.
  • A Northwell/Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory partnership hosts middle school and high school students to health system labs for a full day of DNA education. Small grants provide students from disadvantaged districts scholarships to the program.
  • The Division of Workforce Readiness provides health career and STEM (science, technology, education, mathematics) learning opportunities in various metro New York school districts. For example, the Employee Assistance Program Tour and Assembly Program introduces students to social work careers; Hospital for a Day exposes Walt Whitman High School teens to careers in nursing, pediatrics, and neurology; and the White Coat Ceremony presents South Huntington School District students with white coats.
"[EMS] can lead to many different avenues — law enforcement, deeper into medicine, medical school, RN. The sky is the limit."
— Bernard Robinson