HAMMOND — Mock interviews with representatives from the Community Healthcare System may turn into entry-level jobs for students at the Hammond Area Career Center.

Hammond Area Career Center teachers Christine McCollum, Monica Hardy and Diane Gute, all registered nurses with 30 years or more of experience, worked with more than 80 students for the past two months to create a portfolio, complete with resumes, high school transcripts and recommendation letters.

The Area Career Center offers 16 career and technical programs to juniors and seniors enrolled in Calumet New Tech, Clark, Edison, Gavit, Griffith, Hammond, Hammond Academy of Science and Technology, Highland, Lake Central, Morton, Munster and Whiting high schools.

McCollum, who teaches dual credit Medical Terminology and Introduction to Health Careers, said her goal for the event was to give the students some practice in professional interviewing.

"It has morphed into much more than that," she said. "The hospital system has agreed that if these kids are as fabulous as we have told them they are, they may get an entry level position at the hospital. They could get a job in dietary, transportation (transporting patients from one department to another), custodial or as a scribe (following the doctor around and typing in his notes). 

The Community Healthcare System includes Community Hospital, Munster; St. Catherine Hospital, East Chicago; and St. Mary Medical Center, Hobart.

Most of the students were slightly nervous before they went into the private interview session with hospital recruiters.

Whiting High School junior Paige Bergeson said she took a deep breath first.

"I want to become a perfusionist or a flight nurse," she said.

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A perfusionist uses the cardiopulmonary bypass machine (heart-lung machine) during cardiac surgery and other surgeries that require cardiopulmonary bypass to manage the patient's physiological status.

"I've got a passion for helping people. This is a great experience to have them come here and do this," she said.

Community Hospital recruiter Jan Daley said she has been very impressed with the students. Daley interviewed Lake Central High School senior Emma Barnett, who wants to be a neonatal nurse. She peppered Barnett with numerous questions, including asking about her greatest challenges, short-term and long-term goals, what to do if given a task she doesn't know how to do and what to do about a team member who doesn't pull their weight.

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Barnett thought a minute, then answered each question, saying she would ask her supervisor for assistance if she did not understand the task.

"I've been in a position where a team member wasn't pulling their weight," she said. "I talked to that person, and no one is ever happy when you call them out on their bad habits. I also let my teacher know."

Highland High School junior Robert Patterson Jr. said he's interested in radiology. "This is a fantastic opportunity to see what we can do in our future. This will help me get a foot in the door," he said.

Lake Central High School senior Michelle Okwara said she wants to be a surgical nurse. She balances a busy schedule including school, working at a store in Southlake Mall, taking classes at Indiana University Northwest in Gary, volunteering at St. Mary Medical Center once a week and family responsibilities.

"I know I'm going to be asked about my strengths and weaknesses and possibly about why I will be a good candidate for a job. I'm ready for it," she said minutes before she went into the interview.

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Southlake County Reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.