Williamson County Schools and Williamson Medical Center celebrated the newest addition to the district's Heart Healthy Bus, which will give student's first-hand healthcare learning experiences.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on Thursday, Sept. 22, at Independence High School featuring remarks from school and hospital representatives as well as teachers and students in Independence's medical services program.

“We are so excited about this heart bus,” Dr. Brian Long of Vanderbilt Heart at Williamson Medical Center said. “It is such a great way to get our message out to our schools and our community about heart health and health awareness.”

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That bus will travel to different schools throughout the year and give students hands-on learning experiences with life-saving tools and skills with equipment like CPR dummies and simulated limbs used to practice trauma care such as applying a tourniquet.

According to WCS, nearly 300 Independence students are enrolled in the program, with more than a dozen already participating in internships in the medical field, a number that is even larger throughout the district.

The event also included tours of a WMC ambulance and a WMC mass casualty bus.

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Independence Medical Science teachers Brandi Mangrum and Kelly Cole said that one of the biggest changes in the program since the beginning of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is an emphasis on how medical professionals deal with their own mental health in a profession that has been stretched thin over the past nearly three years.

 “The biggest thing is the mental health aspects because everybody suffered something, just to varying degrees, and we are trying to include more mental health now to help them out,” Cole said.

“We tell them this is what it's like; this isn’t what you see on 'Grey's Anatomy' — It's not like that in the real world. We tell them how hard it is to get through school, and then how every day is different and some days are good days, some days are bad.”

Regardless of the challenges in the medical profession, Mangrum and Cole said that their students are better equipped for and excited about their futures in the medical world.

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“We see an excitement in them and just really that desire to help people, and so seeing their faces light up when they get to do hands-on activities. I think that's what's key is, teaching them real world application, they see the value in it, and they get excited about learning and, then that translates when they're talking to their family and friends,” Mangrum said. “And then knowing that it can carry them and go with them and help them in the future, it's just a really neat thing.”

One of those students is senior Vina Nguyen who will soon be starting an internship.

“I appreciate the opportunities that Indy has given me to pursue my dreams in the health career. I started freshman year and honestly had no idea what I wanted to do, but as I progressed through high school, I really found my love is helping taking care of people," Nguyen said. “Fortunately, I found my passion in becoming a physician focused on cardiac care. I owe a lot of where I am today to my amazing teachers.”