Humboldt County Office of Education: Local Students & Local Physicians Connecting and Learning

Local Students & Local Physicians Connecting and Learning

Local Students & Local Physicians Connecting and Learning

A student and a nurse look at a chart on a computer during the 2019 HESI program. Due to social distancing requirements, students in HCOE’s HCEP programs got to participate in a distance-learning segment on COVID-19 and our healthcare system.

Local high school students had an opportunity to get an inside glimpse into the science of the coronavirus and learn more about our healthcare system when local physicians, Dr. Skye Heston and Dr. Stephanie Dittmer presented a distance learning segment to students enrolled in the classes that are part of the Health Career Exploration Project (HCEP).

Dr. Heston and Dr. Dittmer shared how COVID-19 infects people, how our human immune system works to fight it off, why some people get sick and die and some people carry the virus with no symptoms. The students learned the realities and reasoning behind our current public health precautions, and heard personal accounts about what it is like to work in health care and treat patients who are ill with COVID-19.

Throughout the class presentation, there were plenty of opportunities for questions and the specialists provided rich content and thoughtful responses. Students and educators shared their own stories and concerns surrounding the pandemic.

“I loved the enthusiasm of the high school students,” said Dr. Dittmer. “Their thoughtful questions were exactly on target and demonstrate the importance of fostering ongoing opportunities for the next generation of health care professionals.”

HCEP is a series of programs that give local high school students an opportunity to explore different healthcare career options, learn more about the science used in healthcare and investigate health career opportunities throughout our local community. The program includes Biology & Community Health science classes at Eureka, Fortuna, and McKinleyville High Schools, and Health Career Pathway classes at Alder Grove and Northern United Charter Schools.

Since mid-March, when schools moved to distance learning, classroom teachers shifted their focus to provide an effective, engaging, virtual learning curriculum for their students. One of the ways they have done this is by bringing talented professionals from many careers into their classrooms to share expertise, career insight and inspiration with students via Zoom, Google Meet or Skype. Although not a traditional face-to-face lesson, virtual learning has expanded the number of people students can connect with and learn from.

Dr. Caroline Connor, chair of the Humboldt-Del Norte Medical Society’s Pre-Medical Education Task Force, states, “The Humboldt-Del Norte County Medical Society knows the importance of giving students insight into the healthcare profession from various angles and what it takes to pursue a career in medicine. It is our hope that some of these students will decide to become physicians and will want to come back ‘home’ to practice medicine here on the beautiful North Coast. We are thankful to have great physicians like Dr. Dittmer and Dr. Heston willing to take the time to talk to these students about COVID-19, and about what it is like to work in the healthcare field.”

Eureka High School Biology & Community Health teacher Alicia Mengel feels these experiences are invaluable. “My students were able to meet with Dr. Heston and it was an extremely enriching experience,” she said. “In a virtual google meet, they were able to hear from a local expert who was able to dispel some myths and increase their understanding of this worldwide pandemic. Having knowledgeable local guest speakers, especially during distance learning, enhances student’s understanding of complex topics that are applicable to their everyday lives.”

HCEP is possible through partnerships between the Humboldt County Office of Education Education at Work Program, the Humboldt-Del Norte County Medical Society, the Humboldt County Oral Health Leadership Team, Workforce Development Board, California Center for Rural Policy, College of the Redwoods and local school districts.

For more information about HCEP, other HCOE Education at Work programs, or to volunteer to share your own career expertise and information with local students, please contact Jim Ritter at (707) 498-2917 or Learn more at