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HOBART | Carrie Buhmann had extra room in her schedule on entering high school, so she decided to sign up for the biomedical elective. Little did she know it would inspire her to want to become a doctor.

Over four years, the class exposed her to the variety of careers in health care and even gave her hands-on experience at St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart.

"I used to want to be a military doctor because my dad was in the Army. Then I decided I really wanted to stay here and help lower-income areas," Buhmann said.

"When I started going to the emergency room, it was so exciting all the time, and you always see different things."

Now the 17-year-old senior wants to be a trauma doctor. She plans to attend Grace College in the fall to study pre-med.

The partnership between the high school and hospital has introduced scores of Northwest Indiana students to the health care field, earning many of them college credits along the way. This comes at a time when health care is the top employer in the region and one of the few sectors of the local economy that has consistently seen growth in recent years.

"We are really focused, as a not-for-profit, community-based hospital, on the community itself," said St. Mary CEO Janice Ryba.

"We're all deeply embedded in the Hobart community, and want to maintain not only the economy but (also) health care in the area. We need to be educating and training students from an early age, to get them on an early career path."

The alliance started with an emergency rescue technology course, where Hobart High School students interested in becoming emergency medical technicians or paramedics could go on ambulance rides and spend time in St. Mary's ER.

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Hobart schools Superintendent Peggy Buffington said she knows the program works because she sometimes sees former students drive by behind the wheel of an ambulance.

"We find the experiential side of it is most beneficial for our kids, because it exposes them to real-life experience and makes them probe their minds: 'What else might I be interested in?' " she said.

The biomedical elective lasts all four years of high school, and includes an internship at St. Mary Medical Center. Buffington remembers one of its students apologizing to her because, after having gone through the class, she decided she didn't want to be a physical therapist anymore; she planned to become a family doctor instead. The superintendent told her not to be sorry; weeding out potential career options is exactly the point of the program.

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Buffington said the school district's goal is to get every student some form of experiential learning, whether in a health care setting or elsewhere.

"There's nothing like a beaming kid telling you what they were able to see at St. Mary's hospital on the day of their visit," she said. "They're, of course, always wanting to see something packed with action that they can come back and tell you about."

Buhmann is one of those beaming kids.

She said: "Every week we would go to a different floor to see everything. One week we're with people drawing blood, the next in the ER seeing crazy stuff. I got to go through rounds." 

The teens said the internship taught her way more than she would have learned in a classroom. The physicians were honest about what it's like to be in the medical field, even telling her about the downsides to being a trauma doctor.

"Through this internship, I've learned a lot of things that you can only learn by seeing them done," she said. "We learn so much at school, but we don't really apply it right away. In that class, I feel like I can apply every single thing I learn."

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Health Reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.