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High school students got an eye-opening look at heart surgery Monday at Providence Medford Medical Center.

About 50 kids watched a live video feed while Dr. Storm Floten replaced a patient's aortic valve at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland. Students saw the entire three-hour procedure, from Floten's sawing the patient's sternum in half to open the chest cavity to his sewing the bone back together with a needle and stainless steel wires.

"It was cool to actually see what goes on," said Ben Hughes, 18, a senior at Grants Pass High School. "It looks different in the movies."

The presentation was part of Providence's program to encourage young people to consider careers in health care. Many medical professions will need to replace hundreds of thousands of workers who will retire over the next 10 to 20 years, as well as add new jobs to care for an expanding aging population.

Oregon alone will need to fill more than 15,000 nursing jobs over the next 15 years, according to a study prepared by the Oregon Center for Nursing, established in 2001 to address the state nursing shortage.

Providence St. Vincent has previously shown live surgery video to students at the hospital, but Monday's program in Medford marked the first time a surgery could be viewed at a remote location. Students watched the procedure as Dr. Albert Starr, a pioneering heart surgeon now at Providence, provided continuous commentary.

Starr spoke on one video screen while students watched the surgery on another. Starr, who helped invent the first artificial heart valve, explained what the surgeon was doing and also pointed out the many other people who work on the surgical team during a complex procedure such as a valve replacement.

"It just opened up (students') eyes to some of the career choices," said Jeri Cowger, who teaches anatomy and physiology at Grants Pass High School. "A lot of times they think it's just a doctor and a nurse."

When the surgery ended, Dr. Mark Lupinetti, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Providence Medford, answered local students' questions. Their queries ranged from the mundane ("How much vacation does a heart surgeon get?") to the technical ("How much pain does a patient feel after heart surgery?").

Lupinetti answered them all. He told them he doesn't get much vacation, and as for pain, "People who have had several surgeries say heart surgery hurts the least."

Hospitals have a real interest in giving students their first medical experience, said Jana Billeci, volunteer coordinator for Providence Medford.

"Studies have proven that once you allow a student the opportunity, they'll often come back (after they finish their education) to the place where they started," Billeci said. "It's an investment for us."

Richard Zhu, a senior at North Medford High, said watching the surgery fed his growing interest in a medical career.

"We're always limited to the book," said Zhu, 17, who's been considering cardiology. "To see it in real life really heightened my interest."

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.

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