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Everyday Heroes: Julie Joyal Mowschenson, Ed.M.'08

In collaboration among Brookline High School, Harvard Medical School, and the BIDMC, the Health Careers course taught by Julie Joyal Mowschenson aims to interest teenagers in the sciences by using hand-on learning with patient simulation.

Julie JoyalOn an early Friday morning at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), several teenagers surround a male patient named Stan - a lifesize computerized mannequin - discussing family history of heart attack and differential diagnoses, and debating the value of conducting bypass surgery over angioplasty. It's the last thing you expect high school students to be doing. Yet, it's just a typical day in Julie Joyal Mowschenson's class.

In collaboration among Brookline High School, Harvard Medical School, and the BIDMC, the Health Careers course taught by Mowschenson, Ed.M.'08, aims to interest teenagers in the sciences by using hand-on learning with patient simulation. "This is not just a course for advanced placement students who want to be doctors - the content is for everyone," Mowschenson says, noting that the class' 24 students come from varying socioeconomic backgrounds and academic levels. "Today this course is particularly relevant as job opportunities in the next decade are going to be in health sciences." Mowschenson hopes that her students will not only learn science, but also develop a passion for it, and hopefully consider careers in the field.

An active volunteer in Brookline Public Schools and a nurse with over 25 years of experience, Mowschenson, 48, enrolled in the Ed School's Education Policy and Management Program on a quest to learn more about education policy. "I wanted to learn about polices that could help narrow the achievement gap and offer a better life for those most deserving," she says.

After graduation, Mowschenson was encouraged by her advisor Senior Lecturer Paul Reville, also Massachusetts Secretary of Education, to take a position at Harvard Medical School running the Harvard Premedical Institute, a program dedicated to getting inner city students excited about the sciences using patient simulation. Reville thought, says Mowschenson, that it would be an excellent bridge between her two careers: nursing and education. She agreed that a hands-on experiential approach was exactly the type of teaching and learning needed in the sciences, and, shortly after accepting the job, Mowschenson was asked to teach the Health Careers course at Brookline High School.

Since she had never been a classroom teacher, Mowschenson admits she was somewhat intimidated by the idea of teaching such a course. However, with the help of her colleague Elan Guterman, a Harvard Medical School volunteer, Mowschenson wrote the curriculum and learned the ins and outs of working with a patient simulator.

Students are captivated by the excitement of a fast-paced hospital environment. They quickly act as doctors prompting questions to Stan, the simulated patient that speaks, breaths, and has vital signs -- the same equipment that Harvard medical students practice on. The course also provides opportunities for the students to work together as a team, solve problems, think critically, and use communication skills necessary for job success. "These are qualities educators often finding lacking in their graduates," Mowschenson says.

The students' interest is evident in their attendance records -- none of the students has yet to miss a class at the hospital -- and in their weekly written reflections. In one paper, Hanna Pinsky, a 10th grade Brookline High School student, credited Mowschenson's class with changing her life and future. "Everyone needs someone to take care of them, and if practicing on a mannequin allows us to be prepared for the future, then I am so grateful for standing over the mannequin as 'Dr. Pinsky,'" she wrote.

Mowschenson hopes that her curriculum and course will set a precedent for health and science education in the country. Other hospitals in the Boston-area have already contacted Mowschenson about bringing the course to their local high schools and facilities. Additionally, she plans to use the methodology she learned at the Ed School to expand her course into a future research project tracking student outcomes. "I think I have found my niche," she says.