USC Verdugo Hills Hospital welcomed 73 students from local high schools for its annual Healthcare Day of Discovery, which welcomes a diverse array of students considering careers in health care.

“They get a wonderful hands-on experience and get to talk with a wide range of people, explore the hospital and see what things are really like on a day-to-day basis,” said Armand Dorian, MD, the hospital’s CEO.

Participants first attended panels presented by USC-VHH staff across multiple specialties and departments, including nursing, physical rehabilitation, ancillary services and hospital administration. Physicians also spoke, including Dorian. The speakers offered practical information about their jobs and what inspired their career paths.

The day showcased a variety of potential careers for attendees to consider.

“There are plenty of professions that we highlight,” said Deborah Weirick, director of community and donor relations at USC-VHH. “That’s the thing that I’m most proud of — high-achieving students tend to think, ‘I can only be a doctor,’ or ‘I can only be a surgeon.’ This event can really open their eyes.”

Tarina Lee Kang, MD, MHA, chief medical officer of USC-VHH, told students that she earned a degree in liberal arts before transitioning to emergency medicine:

“Through music, I could reach out to someone in a very specific way,” Kang told the students. “I really enjoyed having that connection with people. I think medicine is very similar. You’re helping people in a way that requires a very special connection. Because of those parallels, I was really drawn to medicine.”

Conner McLurkin, a student at St. Francis High School in La Cañada Flintridge, has always been inspired by his mother — who is a neurologist — to pursue a career in neurology or biomedical engineering. The Day of Discovery, he said, taught him more about other roles in the field.

“The first talk was from the nurses, who have to be experts in so many aspects of care,” McGregor said. “The physical medicine rehabilitation team also enlightened me. I found myself eager to ask them more about their jobs, and they had wonderful answers.”

Once the panels concluded, students were divided into small groups for firsthand learning opportunities. Categories included vascular ultrasound, cardiac rehabilitation, vital signs equipment, first responder skills, stroke and the human brain, physical therapy and IV preparation.

After a brief demonstration, students were invited to try out the equipment or newly taught skills, including CPR.

The day concluded with guided tours of the hospital and a job fair, where USC-VHH staff explained the logistics, pay and lifestyle of fields such as as human resources, volunteer coordination and first responder work.

Dorian said he hopes students take two key messages from the day.

“The first is to dream big,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve had less-than-perfect grades, a hard time on an exam or not enough extracurriculars to impress your school of choice. Keep going, don’t sell yourself short and never give up.”

Dorian’s second message came down to a single word: balance. Having outside interests and passions are crucial to preventing burnout and developing a strong bedside manner, he said.

“For example, I knew a doctor who was able to educate a patient on his condition by using plumbing systems as a metaphor for what was happening in his body,” Dorian said.

Students said they left feeling inspired and open to new possibilities.

“It really widened my perspective and inspired me to look into becoming a nurse due to the widespread nursing shortage,” said Jacob Ralph, a sophomore at St. Francis. “It really made me want to step up.”

— Kate Faye