The next generation of Cayman health professionals may come from the local student population.

Health City Cayman Islands has expanded its Healthcare Explorers Program to allow for an even younger group of students who can begin thinking about a medical career as early as eight years old.

Charles Bush, pastor and educational coordinator at Health City, has been working to expand the options available to local students. In the long run, he said, Health City is only sustainable if it can attract local talent, and the same is true for the other medical facilities here in Cayman.

“We always tell students, ‘Your time with us is a success if you decide this is what you want to do. And it’s also a success if you decide it’s not what you want,’” he said. “We’re here to help you shape your choices. We want to expand the conversations teachers and parents are having with the students.”

And in some cases, he wants to initiate those conversations even earlier than usual.

The new Junior Explorers programme is open to students 8 to 12 years old, and it educates them with essay competitions, career fairs and other events to stimulate their developing minds. The STEM Day Camp, an established event, has been reclassified for students 10 to 14 from ages 12 to 14.

The path for older students, the Senior Explorers, has also been reshaped. Those students are 13 to 17 years old, and they are taught through field trips, workshops and internship placements. The field trips are especially productive, Bush said, because it allows the students to not only see different types of careers in action but also to see local people working in that career.

“On a field trip, they’ll get to meet some of our local Caymanian success stories,” he said. “And we’re very excited about that. If we can see ourselves in the future, then we know, ‘OK, I can do this.’”

Some of the Senior Explorers who may be considering a career in the medical field can participate in the Shadow a Doctor programme, which allows them to follow in the footsteps of a medical professional as they go about their rounds. In some cases, that could mean a doctor, a nurse or a technician.

More than 40 students have participated in the Shadow a Doctor programme this year, and the Health City Explorers have served a record 1,797 students in 2019. Shomari Scott, Health City’s director of business development, said the programme follows in the tradition of hospital founder Dr. Devi Shetty.

“The principle behind why we’re here is to offer the highest quality healthcare at a reasonable price so that people can afford it,” Scott said. “We want to make sure we get Caymanians to come in and to eventually become the Dr. Binoys of the future 25-30 years from now. We should have a slew of Caymanian and Caribbean doctors who buy into the ethos of Health City and Dr. Shetty’s vision. Giving back is something that is part of the vision. We give our time to make sure it can be accomplished.”

In fact, Bush said, some of those students will even witness a surgery up close and personal.

“I let them into the operating theatre, and when they come back out, it’s like they’ve had this religious experience. Lights have gone off for them,” Bush said. “It really is a very instructive experience.

“They’ve watched YouTube videos and they’ve watched ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ They think they want to be a doctor, but when they can get in there and actually see it, it’s real.”

Health City also invites classes to the hospital for a tour of the facility, but it’s been expanding the amount of students it can reach by developing webinars they can watch from their school.

So far, Health City has produced three educational videos that demonstrate different lessons in healthcare. In one video, Dr. Binoy Chattuparambil explains the anatomy of the heart. Another video is a tutorial on how the brain works, and a third is a lesson on bones and joints.

The oldest branch of the programme, the University Explorers, is for students 17 and older. That programme introduces students to rotations at the University College of Cayman Island School of Nursing, as well as the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, better known as SURF.

The SURF programme is now in its fifth summer, and it takes university students who are on a pre-med track and places them at Health City for a month where they will write a detailed research paper.

“We don’t want students to start working now if further education can help them more,” Bush said. “We want to hear what their aspirations are so we can figure out how to be a part of the journey.”

Health City is planning on building a medical school in its next phase of construction perhaps five years from now, and the hope is that it will teem with potential Caymanian recruits over the ensuing decades.

To get to that point, though, Health City has to start local kids even thinking about that kind of career.

“At the end of the day,” Scott said, “building the capabilities of the Caymanian workforce is something that’s high on our radar. Even if they don’t come back to work for Health City but we spark them to be a part of healthcare and they work elsewhere on the island, that’s a win for us as well.”

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