PREP-KC gets area high school students interested in health care careers

February 20, 2014

By Greg Peters

Sandra Billinger talks to some of the students participating in the PREP-KC program

A smile of accomplishment breaks across the face of Pa Lee as she rolls an ultrasound probe across the arm of fellow student Jazminn Glavin. The grin quickly replaces the pensive look that was painted across the F.L. Schlagle senior's face just moments earlier when she intently watched lab assistant Jack Tilton demonstrate how to use the device.

A computer monitor shows Pa has wasted little time doing what she had set out to do - find an artery. Soon she is monitoring the flow of blood with the confidence of a seasoned pro as it circulates through Jazminn's arm as she lies on an adjacent platform in the Georgia Holland Research in Exercise and Cardiovascular Health Laboratory (REACH Lab) at the University of Kansas Medical Center. 

Pa is one of four girls from Schlagle - three seniors and junior - getting a taste of what it's like to be a medical researcher as part of a visit to KU Medical Center. The teens are part of PREP-KC, an initiative that strives is to improve the education of Kansas City's urban students to prepare them for college and careers.

"The goal of the day is for the students to be exposed to life as a student in a health-focused professional program," says Chelsia Potts, the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) liaison for PREP-KC, which serves 62,000 students in six metro districts -­ Kansas City, Kan., Kansas City, Mo., Independence, Center, Hickman Mills and Grandview. "A trip to KU Medical Center is beneficial because it allows them to feel what it is like to be a college student. It will motivate them to reach their goals and make their dreams be closer to reality."

REACH Lab director Sandra Billinger welcomed Pa, Jazminn and classmates  Abiana Cole and Dynesha Key to KU Medical Center, and the girls went straight to work learning how researchers use ultrasound to track blood flow through the extremities of the human body. Tilton and Anna Mattlage, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science, show the visitors how to use the equipment, and it wasn't long before the students rolled up their sleeves, put on medical gloves and did the testing themselves using their peers as practice patients.

"It was interesting to see on the monitor how the blood flows back and forth with the red and blue colors," says Dynesha.

In addition to their work with the ultrasound, the students also spent time investigating how blood circulates inside the brain using equipment paid for in part through funds raised when Billinger and her son walked across Kansas last summer. The device is connected to a computer monitor so students can track the blood's movement when a patient is either resting or working out on a recumbent stepper. This research is part of vital work being done with stroke patients at The University of Kansas Hospital.

During the visit to the lab, the students also learned about heart rate variability, which can be an indicator when judging proper cardiovascular function - and the role oxygen consumption plays in a person's health. Perhaps the biggest lesson they learned came from beyond the lab when Billinger stressed the importance of commitment in achieving success.

"You have to have a passion for what you do," she told them. "It takes hard work. You have to be motivated and take advantage of the opportunities."

Part of the visit is to learn the steps required to become a physical therapist. Billinger said the to-do list starts with getting an undergraduate degree, taking the graduate record exam and applying to a physical therapy program. At KU Medical Center, the doctor of physical therapy program takes three years of study, and the person must graduate from the program before testing for licensure.

Billinger told the students that physical therapists are in demand in a variety of settings from school districts to skilled nursing centers. And depending on where they work, a physical therapist can treat a variety of patients ranging from people who have suffered strokes to athletes to people dealing with chronic illnesses or injuries.

Students in the six districts represented by PREP-KC are made up of 46 percent low-income students and 47 percent students of color. Potts says the visit to KU Medical Center is a good opportunity for the students to be exposed to the opportunities college offers.

PREP-KC was founded in 2005 as an independent organization to improve the city's urban education outcomes. Along with startup money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the initiative is funded by foundations, corporations and individuals committed to urban education.  The program encourages a rigorous mathematics curriculum, while providing students a chance to earn college credit and offering career-readiness experiences.

Last modified: Feb 20, 2014