Madison West High School freshman Erin Tormey leaned over and looked closely through the otoscope, seeing gray in the ear of University of Wisconsin-Madison physician assistant student Violet Weibel.
That was a good sign, Weibel and her classmate Kayla Miller explained — red or pink can mean an ear infection.
Erin, along with dozens of others in the West health science exploration class, got a visit from the PA students as part of National PA Week. It was an opportunity to learn what school is required — four years of undergrad and a two-year master’s program — and try out some of the tools, explained teacher Erin Vera.
“Actually being able to meet real people in the field helps them to really visualize it,” Vera said. “These are students that are maybe only a few years older than they are, so maybe they can connect with it and see themselves.”
The ear inspection went along with a nose inspection at one of the stations the UW students set up, and West students also got to try taking each other’s blood pressure and learned how to read an electrocardiogram, or EKG.
Freshman Henry Affeldt said it was “really cool” to try the different stations, and especially enjoyed the EKG reading. He had used a stethoscope before, but the rest of the equipment was new to him, even though his mother is a PA. He’s considering following in her footsteps.
“It seems really interesting to help out people,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to have a career in health care. It was really cool to meet the people who are in the school right now.”
For the UW-Madison students, it was a fun chance to share more about a career they said often flies under the radar in the medical field. During a presentation, the group of four visitors explained they perform the same duties as a physician, but with that physician as a supervisor — like a co-pilot to a pilot, as they put it.
“PAs don’t get a lot of exposure,” first-year student Maggie Williams said. “Coming from my (experience) as a high school student, it means a lot more when it comes directly from a health care professional.”
Williams said she enjoyed how “enthused” the students were at their stations. She explained to the group how to measure blood pressure, allowing the students to test it out on each other and helping them on how to listen through a stethoscope.
Nicholas Gohar, a West freshman, said he has had instruments like an otoscope used on him during physicals for sports, but he had never looked through one. The visit made a PA job “look pretty cool,” he said.
Erin said the visit would “make me more open” to the various careers in health care, which is exactly what Vera hoped the visits would accomplish.
“I get a lot of students that come in and think health care career and they think, ‘I want to be a nurse or I want to be a doctor,’” she said. “What they need to know is that there are so many careers out there, and physician assistant is one of them.
“It’s really good for them to know that there are other paths out there that are just as fulfilling.”