PROFILE: ‘Mama Maddox:” ChH’s Andrea Maddox works to raise the next generation of healthcare workers

Published 1:08 pm Thursday, March 28, 2024

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By BARTON PERKINS | Staff Writer

A man lies clinging to life in a hospital bed. An EKG test is administered, and the patient moans as medical workers try to figure out exactly what is wrong with him.

This is the sort of scene most people would expect to find in a hospital like UAB or Shelby Baptist, but it’s actually happening at Chelsea High School. The patient is a manikin named “Juno” and the doctors and nurses around him are high school seniors in Andrea Maddox’s health sciences class.

“We’re in certification season right now for internship classes,” Maddox says. “My students are preparing for their certified patient care technician exam.”

Maddox has taught health sciences at Chelsea High School since 2019 and is the program’s inaugural teacher.

“So many students enter into my classroom either very interested to go into healthcare or really unsure about it,” Maddox says. “I love being able to teach them basic skills that they can use in a future career, or if they choose not to go into health care that they can just use in their daily life. Because whether you choose to go into healthcare or not, you can’t avoid it.”

Maddox’s classroom provides a safe place for students to learn about healthcare in a simulated environment, and in a way that helps them determine if healthcare is for them. It also encourages many students to consider a career in operating rooms, and this is incredibly important as there is a desperately growing need for new operation room workers across the country.

The birth of a new program

When you look around Maddox’s classroom, you see an array of complex surgical devices and manikins meant to train students how to find pulses and administer CPR to infants. But hidden away in the corners, you can see evidence of a bygone era. A stray stove, a refrigerator and other items that hint at the classroom’s previous life as a Home Economics classroom.

When the previous teacher using Maddox’s classroom, a Home Economics teacher named Ms. Walker, was set to retire, Shelby County Schools’ Career & Technical Education Supervisor Julie Godfrey conducted a survey to help determine what career-track program should replace Home Ec.

“Anytime you add a new career tech program, you can’t just say, ‘Oh, you know what I think would be cool, let’s start such and such,’” Maddox says. “You have to be able to justify it.”

What Chelsea High School discovered is that within the next 10 years, roughly a fifth of the people currently working in surgery rooms across the United States are expected to retire. On the other hand, as our population continues to rise and life expectancy becomes longer and longer, the need for people working in surgery programs will only grow larger as time goes on.

With this in mind, Chelsea High School decided that they needed to add a new career program to its curriculum that could prepare students for potential careers in operating rooms. For that, they needed to find someone with real-world experience working in the field.

Starting the program

UAB’s transplant ward is one of the largest in the nation, performing more than 400 organ transplants a year. Up until 2015, Maddox worked there as an operating room nurse.

“I was a stay-at-home mother at the time when I saw Shelby County Schools’ job posting,” Maddox recalls. “They were looking for a new health science teacher for an entirely new health science program and they were looking for a nurse with at least five years of experience to help start the program.”

Maddox applied for the position and officially joined Chelsea High School’s faculty in 2019. She quickly got to work renovating the former classroom and converting it to a series of simulated surgical environments where students could learn and hone their skills.

“The school did a fantastic job of helping us re-create a healthcare space, right here within our high school,” Maddox says. “They took my feedback of what it should look like and how it would best flow from the teacher’s perspective. They took in my suggestions, and just really made it come to life.”

The classroom is divided into three major sections.

-First, there is a more traditional classroom space with desks students can sit at while they are lectured, review videos or practice on CPR dummies.

-Then there is a pre-and-post-operation section that simulates taking care of patients who are about to enter surgery or have just left the operating room.

-Finally, there is a portion of the classroom where a manikin is strapped into a surgical bed. This final section of the classroom is where surgery itself is actually simulated and students learn how to operate different equipment and perform tasks in the operating room. The room also serves as a visual way to encourage students to be interested in the Health Science program.

“I was one of the students Mrs. Maddox pulled in my freshman year,” Chelsea High School senior Theresa Nguyen recalls. “I was just sitting in my math class, and Mrs. Maddox just popped in and was like ‘Is anybody here interested in health science at all? Even if you do the slightest bit you have to come with me.’ So, I did and I saw the room and I decided to start taking Mrs. Maddox’s class.”

Like many of Maddox’s students, Ngyuen has been in the Health Science program for almost her entire high school career.

Nguyen herself admits that she no longer thinks she wants to work in an operating room, instead considering a path in law, but she treasures her time with Maddox and all that she has learned in Maddox’s classroom because one of Maddox’s greatest strengths as an educator is her ability to form deep and meaningful relationships with her students.

Impact on students

There is an air of ease when Maddox is with the students that she’s spent the last several years working with, and a level of familiarity with each other that seems to transcend the classroom.

“Mrs. Maddox is who got me into this,” says Cassidy Reynolds, a Chelsea High School senior and HOSA’s Alabama chapter president. “I love her, and she’ll probably be invited to my wedding.”

HOSA is an organization that strives to provide future professional healthcare workers with the resources necessary to become leaders in the global health community through education, collaboration and experience. Reynolds has been involved with HOSA’s Alabama chapter for as long as she has been Maddox’s student.

“It’s changed my life from the get-go, and Mrs. Maddox has supported me and everything,” Reynolds says. “We’ve spent countless hours together and drove countless miles together to different events, and I have not only built this really good connection with her, but also just like a friendship that we’ll have forever.”

Maddox notes that much of what she strives for as an educator is to not only teach her students her class material but also to help them grow as individuals. This manifests both in professional and career opportunities like Reynolds’ work with HOSA, but also with different non-profit and charity opportunities.

“It’s extremely important for me to develop them into good people who support people from all backgrounds because even as future health care providers, your patients are going to be very diverse in their abilities,” Maddox says. “And so, it’s been important to me to even bring that aspect in our program to build them just into good people.”

With this in mind, Maddox has entered into partnerships with the special education classrooms in Chelsea High School to allow students to befriend and interact with different people while still continuing to learn.

“This internship class just did a lesson with our special education friends,” Maddox says. “Their science unit was talking about the cardiovascular system. So, they were able to do a lesson on how to do hands-only CPR. Being able to give them opportunities to create friendships with our friends in the special education department is important to me, not just because I am a special needs mother myself and want to create the environment that I hope my own children will step into one day at the high school, but then send them out into the community prepared as future health care providers who will be caring for people from all backgrounds and abilities.”

Maddox’s students often affectionately call her “Mama Maddox,” and she wears the nickname proudly as she works to train the world’s next generation of compassionate and competent healthcare workers.