Students at Norwin High School got real-life experience in taking blood pressures last week.
They were taught by nursing students from Westmoreland County Community College as part of the high school's Physics in Medicine course.
The course, created last year by teacher Matt Anticole, shows students the physics involved in medicine, from the force of blood running through the veins and arteries to the power of radiation in killing tumors.
He shares teaching the course with Brandan Salany.
The three course units this semester are blood physics, radiation oncology and medical imaging. Medical imaging can involve sonograms, X-rays, MRIs and CAT scans with or without dye injected into the body.
Mr. Anticole said if time allows, the course may also include the principles of torque and buoyancy as they apply to physical therapy.
Becky Gediminskas, a former intensive care unit nurse, nursing instructor at Westmoreland County Community College and Norwin school board member, started the class by asking questions and explaining various factors that can increase blood pressure, such as age, exercise, stress, African-American ancestry, gender (men have higher blood pressure as a rule), medication or caffeine, obesity, medical conditions, whether it is day or night and temperature.
Hot weather lowers blood pressure because people lose fluid by sweating, but having a fever increases blood pressure, she said.
In the classroom last week, groups of four to five Norwin students gathered around each nursing student to learn the right way to take blood pressure.
Norwin students with stethoscopes in their ears listened to blood flowing through the arms of their classmates.
Matt Harsch, a senior, was surprised at what he heard.
"You hear your own heartbeat sometimes, but when you hear someone else's, it's kind of different, kind of muffled," he said.
The nursing students, including John Wheelus, Christina Chinchock, Sara Weimann, Megan Seibel and Mary Trout-Fennell, are all learning in various rotations at local hospitals: in the obstetrics, pediatric, intensive care, medical-surgical or psych ward or ward for the chronically ill.
They are members of SNAP, the Student Nurses Association of Pennsylvania, and volunteer in various places.
The district is emphasizing a STEM -- science, technology, engineering and math -- curriculum to prepare students for jobs needed this century, and plans to build a STEM center where students can learn technologies from teachers in industry and other partners.
Members of the baby boom generation are aging, and according to the website safeseniors.org, one in every five Americans will be older than 65 by 2020.
"We're going to need more medical professionals across the spectrum," Mr. Anticole said.
"We're going to have a wave of nurses retiring and there's going to be a big shortage."
He said the number of doctors needed will also increase dramatically.
Mr. Anticole said he wants the principles learned in the Physics in Medicine course to help Norwin students to pass their exams in nursing, phlebotomy, radiology and other medical professions they may choose in the future.
The Physics in Medicine course itself is a work in progress and will be changed and added to as he and Mr. Salany teach it, he said.
Anne Cloonan, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.