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Sarah Sikandar 

Signal Staff Writer 

Rehan Wani, a freshman at Valencia High School, wants to study Parkinson’s Disease. Since his grandfather and great uncle both suffered from the progressive disease, most common in middle age and elderly patients, he wishes to pursue a health care career aimed at diagnosis and treatment. That, or a podiatrist – he isn’t sure, yet. 

Wani was presenting at the school’s Medical Science Academy’s end-of-the-year presentations on Monday. More than 200 students, from freshmen to seniors, presented and participated in various career-oriented activities of the day. Students were able to showcase their research, learning outcomes, presentation skills and critical thinking skills in the one-day event. Freshmen shared their health career posters, while sophomores showcased PSA videos. Juniors and seniors sat down for health care job interviews in the school library. 

MSA is a uniquely independent program, “a school within a school,” as MSA Director Joe Monteleone puts it. It includes teachers, an administrator and a counselor, “all within the walls of Valencia High School.” 

Students are selected for the program based on their GPA and behavior records. They take regular high school classes with a medical curve linked directly to the MSA program. Core teachers can link any topic to an MSA-oriented issue – how injuries were dealt with in World War II, for instance, compared to now – enabling students to take regular classes, AP and honors classes in any discipline and be in the MSA cohort. The underlying goal includes a broader understanding of health care issues, and preparation for college. 

For their presentations, freshmen, with help from their seniors, shortlisted and compared two health care careers: physical therapy versus sports therapy; general surgeon versus nurse practitioner; pediatrician versus orthodontist; radiologist versus radiation therapist. The students compared various sub-professions, analyzed through degree costs and time to degree, employment opportunities, and salaries.      

Students also chose to focus on mental health. Sophia LeMoe and Alexa Garcia, both sophomores, chose obsessive compulsive disorder for their PSA. The video follows a young woman going about her day struggling with her OCD. The message: learn about effective ways to understand and treat OCD.  

Sophomores Syed Kabeer, Sean Leoncio and Erin Kim partnered for an animated video on measles. They included stats on the disease, from the outbreak to present situation, with a fun playdough-and-animation mixed media. The video showcases the students’ creative imagination and in-depth knowledge of the subjects.  

Andrea Manzala, another freshman, chose to compare emergency room physicians and nurses for their role in critical care.  

“I really liked how they’re able to leave the room and still direct and influence the room,” Manzala said, adding she likes the unpredictability of the job, too. “You don’t know what’s going to happen when you step into a shift, as you get to treat a variety of patients.” 

It takes a simple application, and excellent behavior record, to be a part of the MSA cohort. Since the program is career-oriented and entails the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, students with a good behavior record usually make it to the program, with lesser emphasis on GPA.  

MSA is a part of a larger network but the only program in Santa Clarita, according to Monteleone. In partnership with bigger organizations like Career and Technical Students Organization, and Future Health Professionals, Monteleone added, students attend conferences to help gain experience and insight. This year, 30 seniors from MSA qualified to participate in the conference hosted by The International House, a center for global engagement at University of Tennesse, Nashville, this June. 

Colorfully designed posters scattered throughout the gym, as students compared the advantages and disadvantages between their chosen careers. Patrick Navas’ poster featured a blue surgical glove, a mask, an IV and a hairnet. He was comparing careers of a general surgeon with a nurse practitioner. 

“A general surgeon can take 13 years to complete but can make good money. If I were to choose between a general surgeon and a nurse practitioner, I would choose a general surgeon because of the higher pay and respectability associated with the career.”  

Rehan Wani has a 10-year plan, which starts with staying in MSA for the next three years. 

“I’m going to apply to a four-year college or university after the EMR pathway and then going to the medical field. I’m going to try to apply to medical school somewhere in California, hopefully UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. Afterwards, I’m hoping to get residency and practice neurology somewhere along the coast in Southern California.”  

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