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A kindergarten classroom at Takena Elementary doubled as an operating room on Friday morning.

Five- and six-year-olds donned surgical masks and gloves and practiced pulling organs — the stuffed pretend variety — out of each other as part of the Mini-Medical School experience offered by Western University of Health Sciences.

The program started in 2011 when the school opened a campus in Lebanon, but this is the first year it’s traveled to Albany. Previously, the event was held at the COMP-Northwest campus and schools from Lebanon and Sweet Home were invited to send students to learn about skeletal structure, heart health and germs.

On Friday, first-year medical student Halle Burley had a group of kindergartners thrilled at the thought of being able to hear their own heartbeat. She rounded the table and helped little hands put the stethoscope to their chests, watching one by one as faces lit up at the sound.

“We use a lot of hand motions,” she said about how she managed to bring real-life medical concepts down to a kindergarten level. “We talk about things simply. Everyone knows about exercise, so we talk about that and tie it into heart health." 

Next door, first-year medical student Austin Kleint, an East Linn Christian Academy graduate, was assisting students in surgery as two kindergartners lay on faux operating tables with stuffed organs inside a fake rib cage. Classmates pulled the parts out in an attempt to find the unhealthy one. He emphasized the importance of heart health, explaining that a “healthy heart means a healthy life.”

“We’re learning about community,” said kindergarten teacher Shaina Adams, as she watched students switch out hearts for lungs. “One place in the community is clinics and doctor’s offices.”

She said her students were excited at the chance to perform surgery and what they learned on Friday would be folded into the classroom even after the medical equipment was packed up and on its way back to Western University of Health and Sciences.

Fellow kindergarten teacher Megan Ciaffoni oversaw the hand-washing station where students washed their hands with special soap that leaves behind a substance meant to represent bacteria. They were given the chance to wash their hands again, making sure to scrub at the invisible germs and then run their hands under a black light to reveal what they had missed.

Students also had the opportunity to visit the skeleton station and learn about how bones and joints work together to help them move, as well as where certain bones in the body are located.

According to the college’s public affairs manager, Michelle Steinhebel, medical students do not receive school credit for their trip to Takena. Instead, it was part of a community service effort and not an official class.

“This event gives kids a hands-on opportunity to explore what it means to be a doctors,” she said, adding that it also highlighted the importance of preventative medicine.

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