Dr. Jason Young, dressed in surgical scrubs, relaxed Thursday in an office next to the classroom where he was going to teach a medical class.
It was not at a university or a hospital. Instead, it was a biology course at Affton High School. The orthopedic surgeon was going to demonstrate how joints, muscles and ligaments work, using cow joints as a model.
The students would then dissect the joints, looking at the various parts.
“Some of them get a deer-caught-in-the-headlights look,” Young, 34, said. “Others take to it quickly. By the end, though, they’re learning.”
The doctor was participating in a special honors program designed by Project Lead The Way. The national group provides science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs used by middle schools and high schools.
Affton High offers biomedical science and engineering honors classes four times a week that are separate from the regular curriculum. These are elective, college-credit courses connected with the Missouri University of Science and Technology. The Affton School District is the only district in South County to offer the courses.
In its second year, the biomedical program has brought in doctors about once a month to talk about human physiology. The program offers hands-on experience to about 100 students, showing how the body works. So far this year, four other doctors and a nurse have visited the class.
For the doctors, the one-on-one experience with the teens is a good experience. It also helps the physicians refine their communication skills, Young said. The Kirkwood resident is affiliated with Orthopedics Associates LLC in Des Peres.
“You have to step back and change your vocabulary,” Young said. “As doctors, when we talk to our patients, you have to simplify the terms. These are not trained students, so I don’t use any fancy medical terms.”
Affton High has benefited from biomedical teacher Tim Knox's relationship to Jason Young, who is his brother-in-law.
Dr. Young has recruited family members. His grandfather, Dr. Paul A. Young, an anatomy professor at Saint Louis University Medical School has lectured, so, too, has his father, Dr. Paul H. Young, a neurosurgeon, and Dr. Julia C. Young, his sister, who is a pediatrician.
Other medical professionals included Lisa Carr, a neurological nurse at St. Anthony's Medical Center, who helped the students examine human brains and spinal cords. Dr. Nicholas Rottler, a general surgeon at Saint Louis University Hospital, lectured on eyeballs by using cow eyes.
"They all were eager to be here and be part of this," Knox said. "They know the value of reaching out to young people."
Knox called the class to order. Yong projected a cow joint on an overhead screen and talked about the hinge, ligaments, cartilage and how it all works.
Soon, nine pairs of students donned surgical gloves and goggles and, using scalpels and scissors, began to dissect the cow joints placed before them in trays.
Senior Anthony Sieckmann, 17, and sophomore Katie McAlister, 15, worked as a team. They joked as they cut apart the ligaments and cartilage.
“I love medicine and I hope to be a physician,” Sieckmann said. “I’m going to Mizzou next year and study biology.”
McAlister liked the hands-on experience. She, too, hopes to be a doctor.
“We recently cut apart a cow eyeball and that was really interesting,” she said. “It got a little gross when we cut it and liquid gushed out. It was OK after that.”
Senior Madeline Mullins, 18, and sophomore Addison Bearden, 15, worked at a nearby table. The sophomore let out a little “yuck” when cutting a ligament but kept going.
They, too, enjoy the hands-on work. Like Sieckmann and McAlister, dissecting the eyeball has been one of their highlights for the school year.
“That was really interesting,” McAlister said. “We opened it up and the lens popped out. You could see the whole thing. That was pretty cool.”
McAlister hopes to be a pediatric nurse, while Mullins wants to be a physician’s assistant.
Knox was excited that the students were looking at the diversity of jobs in the medical field. More than 100 students have participated in the program.
“There are more than 40 professions in medicine,” he said. “You can be a doctor or a nurse or an assistant. We’ve had detectives talk about how medicine is used to solve crime through chemistry and DNA.”
The program costs about $270,000, which includes the supplies, the equipment and the various body parts. Affton pays about $100,000, with the rest coming from grants and donations, Principal Susan Jackson said.
“It’s all worth it,” Knox said.
After the dissection was finished, Young put on a video, showing one of his procedures on a shoulder. He uses arthroscopic surgery, which uses small instruments placed into the joint through small incisions in the skin. Young then watches the instruments on a television screen while he manipulates them.
A student asked how long the doctor trained for the procedure.
“I spent a year training,” Young said. “I practiced this procedure 750 times. It’s practice, like anything in life. Practice, practice, practice.”