Alvin ISD STEM Academy students play doctor at HCA Houston Healthcare Pearland




“What’s the number one way to protect yourself from flu,” asks David Wagner, CEO of HCA Houston Healthcare Pearland, quizzing the class of sixth graders seated in the conference room before him. Several sets of enthusiastic hands shoot up, and the first student Wagner calls on provides the correct answer: hand washing.


While the question may have stumped the average adult, these kids know a thing or two about flu, a contagious viral infection which peaks every year between December and February. They’ve been studying flu transmission and prevention at Alvin ISD’s STEM Academy, offered through their school Rodeo Palms Junior High.  


Now, as part of a field trip to HCA Houston Healthcare Pearland, these gifted students have the opportunity to experience real world applications for their studies. After an initial presentation from Wagner, who speaks at a high-level about what it takes to run a hospital, particularly during times of high volume, such as flu season, the students split into smaller groups for a closer look at how multiple hospital departments touch patient care.  


The first group begins in Imaging, where they see a million dollar MRI machine and learn about how chest x-rays are used to diagnose flu complications, such as pneumonia. Next, students head to the emergency department, where a nurse director speaks about triaging and spotting the difference between a flu and a cold. From there, the group heads to the second floor medical surgical unit where they’re given surgical masks as souvenirs and a chance to peek into an isolation unit, which uses negative pressure air flow to prevent the spread of infection. The hospital’s lab is the final stop on the tour, where a resident pathologist shows the group a blown-up image of a virus under a microscope and demonstrates how to diagnose flu with testing.   


While many of the students express interest in future careers as doctors, Sylvia Godinich, chief nursing officer at HCA Houston Healthcare Pearland and one of the day’s tour guides, reminds them there are many ways to participate in healthcare. She makes a point to stop and chat with colleagues from a range of disciplines, including reception, administration, information technology, and more, for impromptu Q&As as she and the students pass them in the halls.


At the conclusion of their tours, the group files back into the conference room to debrief on the day and receive some parting advice. For students considering a future in healthcare, the staff stresses, being well-rounded and having a thirst for knowledge are key. For students wishing to have an immediate impact on flu transmission, however, the guidance is much simpler: keep hands washed and stay up to date with vaccines.