Cardiac surgery staff brings heart lessons to students

Cardiac surgeon Peter Birnbaum hopes to spark an interest in medicine with hands on experience, letting students poke and prod a real heart. For the past few years he’s brought in his staff from Fresno Heart & Surgical Hospital and several fresh cow hearts to Clovis West High School in Fresno to give anatomy lessons.

Clovis West biology teacher Rebecca Avants says such classroom experience is doing the trick because many of her students go on to college and major in biology. She said real world lessons such as these engage students and help translate what they learn in books and lectures into something more concrete. Students said after they got over how “squishy” the fresh heart muscle felt they really enjoyed the experience and could visualize much better how blood moved through the heart.

Michael Fridman, a Canadian pre-med student who is spending the summer shadowing Dr. Birnbaum, fired questions at students during a June 4 heart anatomy lesson. “So if a muscle works more would you expect it be hard or soft? If the ventricle works harder, which side would that be? So which artery feeds blood into the heart?” Students were quick to shout out answers as they crowded in closer to get a better look the cow heart in his hand.

Dr. Birnbaum, president of the medical staff at Fresno Heart & Surgical, also brought another doctor, his surgical nurse and his perfusionist who runs the heart-lung machine during open heart surgeries. All of them talked about the academic path they took to their careers and what studies in high school helped to get them into their chosen field of medicine. Dr. Birnbaum said it’s important for students to see how many different jobs there are in health care.

Fresno Heart & Surgical is a 48-bed hospital providing cardiac services and specializing in heart surgery, weight-loss and minimally-invasive surgery. It’s top rated by HealthGrades for bariatric surgery, carotid surgery and treatment of heart attacks and has been honored for the past three years with HealthGrades’ Outstanding Patient Care Award.

This story was reported by Erin Kennedy. She can be reached at ekennedy@communitymedical.org .