Ines Gueneau, 17, has long known she wanted to be a surgeon, and the Marin County Office of Education helped her get hands-on medical experience even before she entered college.
In a unique program, Marin high school juniors and seniors learn from a Kaiser Permanente health educator at Terra Linda High School during the school year, then work full-time at Kaiser during the summer, graduating in August with medical assistant certificates.
“I decided I wanted to be a neurosurgeon because my grandfather died of a brain tumor,” said Gueneau, who graduated from Terra Linda this year and will enter the University of California at Berkeley in a few weeks. The course confirmed her interest in the field, she said.
The internship also got her interested in reconstructive plastic surgery.
During her internship, she observed Mohs procedures — outpatient procedures that remove thin layers of cancer-containing skin — and assisted doctors, Gueneau said.
“At first I was queasy and had to sit on the floor, but now I’m doing great. I’m helping surgeons with stitches and doing closing bandages,” she said. “In Mohs, they usually do a plastic surgery reconstruction, and that got me interested in plastic surgery.”
Gueneau’s class had 14 students, all of whom received their certificates in a graduation ceremony Friday. Twenty students have signed up for this year’s program, which begins this month, meeting weekly during seventh period at Terra Linda. The program lasts for a year, finishing up with the internship.
The program is a partnership between the education office, Kaiser, San Rafael City Schools and the College of Marin. Participating students are eligible to receive up to 6.5 units of college credit at College of Marin upon completion.
Sarah Burton, a health education assistant at Kaiser, is the medical assistant course instructor. Burton also holds a teaching credential.
“It’s unique in that she is a health professional,” Jesse Madsen, a senior pathways coach at the education office, said of the program. He noted that the office pays for Burton’s time when she teaches the class.
“I can’t praise Kaiser enough for their participation in this program. That’s what makes the program possible,” said Ken Lippi, Marin County’s assistant superintendent of schools.
“We train them in the classroom. One of the nurses comes in and we practice injections on fruit — the skin of an orange,” Burton said.
She said, “About half of this year’s class wants to be nurses and half want to be doctors. One wants to be a neurosurgeon, another has decided she wants to be a midwife.
“They wanted to be sure they could handle things like surgery, the blood and so on, before they went to medical school.”
Medical assistants “are the first people you see when you go to the doctor. They take the vital signs, they register patients, they assist with minor procedures,” Burton said. “They assist the doctor, they do email and messaging for the doctors.”
The instructor said there are plenty of jobs for medical assistants in Marin. “I have students who have been hired at Kaiser Permanente in Marin,” she said. “It’s a very secure field to be in.”
The summer interns earn $10 an hour, working 40 hours a week for eight weeks, she said.
Employment of medical assistants is projected to grow 23 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“The growth of the aging baby boom population will continue to increase demand for preventative medical services, which are often provided by physicians,” the bureau said in a report last year. “As their practices expand, physicians will hire more assistants to perform routine administrative and clinical duties, allowing the physicians to see more patients.”
In Gueneau’s case, the course helped her gain experience and contacts that will serve her well as she pursues her medical studies and eventual surgical career.
“I’ve made some really good connections with the people in my department,” Gueneau said. “I bonded with my coworkers. The doctors were really approachable and were able to teach me a lot.”