PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Learning to become a doctor is a long road, with many years of college. 

What You Need To Know

  • Palm Harbor Middle School students are barely teenagers, but they’re already getting a jump start on a health care career

  • Next year, the eighth grade course will include a ninth grade high school credit course and students will receive First Aid/CPR certification

  • HCA Florida Largo Hospital invests in tomorrow’s health care workforce and donated $5,000 to Palm Harbor Middle School’s Medical Academy to purchase vital sign machines

  • The class helps students decide early on if a career in medicine is something they want to pursue

“Oh, the kids are doing great,” said Deborah Porter, health sciences academy teacher. “They like doing the hands-on activities, they like playing with the stethoscopes.” 

She laughs at the word “playing,” because this is not a medical school or nursing school.

It is not even a high school. 

She teaches at Palm Harbor Middle School, guiding kids through the new medical academy. The class consists of sixth, seventh and eighth graders. 

“This is probably my favorite class actually,” said Marvel Soryal, a Palm Harbor Middle School seventh grade student.

“The medical field is really nice. You get to save lives and there are so many different aspects to it too,” said eighth grade student Vivian Bustos.

The students have learned a lot in one year, including the nervous, digestive, skeletal and cardiovascular systems. The array of topics is intentional. 

“When you say to a middle school student, ‘health care,’ They think doctor, nurse,” said Porter. “They don’t think the MRI technician, they don’t think the speech therapist, they don’t think physical therapy.” 

“That is what this academy is for. It’s for exploration. So I am exploring right now, what do I like about the human body? Do I want to be specific in something or do I want to be in general? That is what I am doing right now. I am exploring,” said Bustos. 

Hospitals in Tampa Bay are taking notice, too. HCA Florida Largo is helping fund this educational endeavor. It gave $5,000 and new medical equipment for students to use. 

“There is definitely a significant need for more medical professionals including nursing, so we are super excited about this,” said Largo Medical Center Chief Nursing Officer Diane Conti.

Manpower is needed in the medical world. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing reports 800,000 nurses will be needed in the next five years, as current nurses retire or leave the industry. The American Medical Association estimates a shortage of 124,000 physicians by 2034

Students like Soryal and Bustos, who are now 12 and 13, will be 22 and 23 in 2034. That is the age when college kids move into advanced medical learning. 

“Do I think it is too early? No,” said Porter. “Because if it is not something they want to do, this program can help them decide: ‘Okay, this isn’t what I thought. This isn’t really what I wanted. So let me try something else.’”

180 students signed up for this program in its first year at Palm Harbor Middle School.