Ahead of the game in Manatee County | From the Observer

When Suzanne Aguirre, a senior at Lakewood Ranch High School, started high school, she wanted to pursue a career as a nurse.

“I’m a caring person, and I want to help people out, especially at their most vulnerable state,” Aguirre said. “You need a caring and compassionate side to be a nurse. You need to put yourself in these people’s shoes.”

Aguirre started taking high school courses in middle school. As a result, she was two courses shy of graduation by the end of her junior year, which gave her time to discover other opportunities.

Aguirre approached her school counselor and asked about nursing courses. Lakewood Ranch High School doesn’t offer nursing courses, so her counselor suggested participating in a dual enrollment course at Manatee Technical College. She completed the Patient Care Technician program in the fall.

“It grabbed my attention because that’s what I want to do when I grow up,” Aguirre said. “Why not start earlier? … This is one of the biggest blessings I’ve ever had in my life. You’re getting the chance to see what it’s like in the field you thought you wanted.”

About 50-75 high school juniors and seniors have taken advantage of the dual enrollment programs offered at MTC this year.

With the credits earned at MTC and their high schools, students who participate in the dual enrollment programs will graduate with their high school diplomas and diplomas from MTC as well as any certifications they were able to obtain through MTC programs.

After completing the Patient Care Technician program in the fall, Aguirre enrolled in the Medical Laboratory Assisting program, which was added as a dual enrollment option this year.

In the fall, MTC will add Optometric Assisting and Medical Administrative Specialist.

Jennifer Gilray, the assistant director of MTC’s east campus, said dual enrollment programs give students an opportunity to expose them to different career paths and opportunities.

“It’s great to see students start to develop and understand that learning can be fun and that it can be a powerful tool for them, regardless of the program they’ve chosen,” Gilray said. “Once they start to recognize that, they can understand that learning can translate into job opportunities.”

Gilray said another benefit of high school students participating in dual enrollment means they can try a program at no cost to them because students won’t have to pay tuition.

Suzanne Aguirre, a Lakewood Ranch High senior, and Alexis McClintock, a Braden River High senior, are ready to graduate from high school and Manatee Technical College with a high school diploma and multiple nursing certifications.

“Learning what you don’t like is sometimes just as important as learning what you do like.” Gilray said.

Alexis McClintock, a senior at Braden River High School, said she has wanted to be a nurse since she was a child. Many of her family members have careers in the medical field, and she loves medical TV shows.

Because dual enrollment courses at MTC wouldn’t cost her any tuition, she thought starting her nursing courses while still in high school would be beneficial.

“My mom, my guidance counselor and I were talking, and they said, ‘Go ahead and try it, and see if you like it,’ because if I didn’t like it, I wasn’t wasting my own money later on,” McClintock said.

While participating in the Medical Laboratory Assisting program this semester, both McClintock and Aguirre have had to juggle other responsibilities.

Aguirre is a member of the Tsunami swim team in Lakewood Ranch as well as the Lakewood Ranch High School swim team. She works 14-hour shifts on the weekends at Blake Medical Center, works part time at Publix as a cashier and also works as a lifeguard for Manatee County Parks and Recreation.

Aguirre said all her responsibilities have forced her to learn time management and determine her priorities.

Lakewood Ranch High School senior Suzanne Aguirre helps Alexis McClintock, a Braden River High School senior, practice drawing blood. They are in Manatee Technical College’s dual enrollment program for Medical Laboratory Assisting

In her spare time, McClintock spends time with her family drag racing. She made a personal record March 20 with her best reaction time.

McClintock said she’s been able to balance coursework with her other responsibilities due to the support and understanding of her teachers.

Both McClintock and Aguirre said their passion for their courses and the fact they chose to take on the dual enrollment program has made it easier for them to take on their workload.

“When you’re in high school, you don’t want to read your history textbook or your math textbook,” McClintock said. “We’re [at MTC] because we picked to come. We wanted to pursue our medical knowledge.”

Aguirre and McClintock have run into a few challenges as high schoolers in the program. Both of them said they try not to tell people how old they are because it changes the way they’re treated.

For example, patients might not want to be treated by Aguirre and McClintock because they don’t think they have the knowledge or experience to treat them properly.

by: Liz Ramos Staff Writer

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