Educators across the board agree that it is increasingly important to prepare students at the earliest ages for the technical and specialized careers that lie ahead of them. Many schools are offering students the opportunity to attend college and high school simultaneously, and some have introduced magnet school programs geared toward instruction in specialized fields, such as business, engineering and international studies.

Eastern High School in Northeast is no exception. For the last seven years, Eastern has offered the School of Health Careers for students interested in medical, technical or business careers in the health-care industry. The program, which students can enter as freshmen or sophomores, offers participants a core curriculum of standard high school classes in addition to specialized courses in nutrition, heath professions, anatomy and physiology.

The program accepts 50 students annually -- 25 freshmen and 25 sophomores -- although students are introduced to the School of Health Careers long before entering Eastern; an intensive recruitment effort is made in the District's junior high schools. Approximately 50 percent of students who have gone through the School of Health Careers have pursued careers in health or are studying pre-medicine, pre-dentistry or are in physician's assistant programs.

The program is one component of the D.C. Public Schools' Public/Private Partnership Program -- a joint project between the city's public school system and private industry aimed giving high school students hands-on experience in seven fields: pre-engineering, communications, health, business and finance, international studies, hospitality and culinary arts.

Connie Spriggs, coordinator of Eastern's program, said the premise is not so much to give students concrete training in health, but rather to give them an overview of the health industry and help them prepare to enter college programs in their chosen specialties.

"We don't want to lock them into this," Spriggs said, "we simply want to give them an opportunity to explore and experience it. After all, health care is one of the fastest growing careers -- there's so much out there."

Students in the program are required to do an internship at an area health care facility. Participating institutions include D.C. General Hospital, Howard University Hospital, East of the River Clinic and Columbia Hospital for Women. Sophomores and juniors usually serve these paid internships during the summer while seniors serve their internships during the school year, attending classes in the morning and working as health interns in the afternoon.

In addition, seniors committed to entering the health industry spend their first semester selecting a specialty and targeting colleges that offer that curriculum. "This is really a step for them to move on to studying health at the collegiate level," Spriggs said.

Kenya Marshman, a 17-year-old senior at Eastern, is working on a research project at George Washington University Hospital, sponsored by the D.C. Department of Public Works. Marshman is studying whether work conditions such as exposure to asbestos or fumes can be linked to deaths or illnesses. "You are really given a lot of responsibility and asked to work on important projects during your internship," she said.

Marshman has decided to pursue a career in obstetrics and gynecology. She said the program has given her knowledge about medical terminolgy and Latin (a required course for these students) and has helped her improve her math skills.

Students must work and apply through the volunteer services or personnel departments of the individual institutions, but, according to Spriggs, often have been placed in significant and responsible roles. Health Careers students have helped with boarder babies (children left in hospitals at birth), in emergency rooms and in hospital pharmacies.

Marshman related just how significant an intern's role can be.

"I remember this young couple came into Columbia, for some reason there were no doctors in the lobby and no one to take her papers in admitting," Marshman said. "Here I was -- the information receptionist -- and I had to try to get her information for admitting, alert labor and delivery that she was on her way and, of all things, her water broke, her contractions were getting closer and closer together . . . I thought, 'I haven't had this yet, what can I do?' Luckily, she got admitted and to delivery and the baby didn't come until 11:30 p.m. the next night."

At Eastern, three health teachers provide classroom instruction to these students, supplemented with guest speakers, field trips, lectures and seminars such as the annual Health Careers Day, sponsored by Howard University's School of Allied Health and Nursing, that students attended last week. Students were given brief presentations on occupational theraphy, physical theraphy, radiology, among other topics.