CRESTVIEW — Health science students at Crestview High School are taking their skills national after qualifying for the Health Occupations Students of America International Leadership Conference set for June.

The conference will bring together thousands of students from across the country who have excelled in competitions in their respective states. Elder Medina-Fuentes, Marissa Butryn and Destyni Weiss will be representing Crestview.

Medina-Fuentes placed second in the state for life support skills, while Butryn and Weiss placed third for the Community Emergency Response Team competition. CERT members are trained to deal with large-scale emergency situations involving mass injuries or deaths. Teams must know how to prioritize care and conduct life-saving aid.

“When they announced a team from Crestview as one of the winners I thought, ‘there’s no team from Crestview,’ then was like ‘wait — oh my gosh,’” Butryn, a freshman, said with a laugh.

Weiss was taken by surprise as well.

“I lost my breath and fell back a little,” the sophomore said.

The pair was one of 38 teams at the competition and one of 16 to advance to the second round before taking third overall. They had to complete a multiple-choice test consisting of 50-60 questions followed by several practical exams that put them in real-world scenarios.

They had to assess the needs of several “injured” patients — actors assigned to play various roles — and treat them accordingly.

“It was stressful but we were prepared,” Butryn said.

Dr. Tammy McKenzie, the students’ teacher at CHS, concurred and added preparation was a reason for their success.

Butryn and Weiss honed their skills in McKenzie’s class but also learned beyond the classroom. HOSA is an extracurricular activity and McKenzie said only about 25 percent of her students participate in it. This required the students to spend their own time studying, practicing and competing.

How much studying?

“A lot,” Butry said with a laugh. “I read books and watch videos. YouTube has a lot of videos that help and I watch about three each night. Then, when I found out we were going to state, I started getting up like an hour early each day to study.”

Aside from medals and a chance to compete against peers from across the country, the students have learned communication and leadership skills and gained personal strength.

“I’ve gained a lot more self-confidence,” Weiss said. “Even during competition, I kept beating myself up and thinking about all the things I should’ve done better. Then, when we won I was like, ‘oh, maybe I am being too hard myself.’”

Both Butryn and Weiss said they had never competed in anything like this event before and were more introverted before joining HOSA — now that’s changed.

Butryn took classes with McKenzie, initially not intending to pursue a career in the health field, rather because she heard good things about it from her classmates. The more she became involved, the more she loved what she was doing and the more dedication she put into it.

Weiss registered for the class and HOSA with clear intentions of being an emergency room doctor and never had the opportunity previously to become engaged like she is at CHS.

Medina-Fuentes also started his path for health sciences before arriving in McKenzie’s class, enrolling in Red Cross education programs at a young age, McKenzie said. 

McKenzie brought 27 students from the school’s Allied Health Program to the state competition April 6-9, in Orlando. The program is part of the county’s Community High Okaloosa Institutes for Career Education — known as CHOICE — initiative. CHOICE allows high school students to gain college credits and technical certifications as part of their curriculum. This gives students attending college a head start and those not attending an opportunity to immediately transition into a technical field.

Those interested in the health sciences can take classes with McKenzie and join HOSA as an extracurricular activity. The program develops leadership and technical skills for students seeking a career in the medical field. Florida has the second-largest HOSA chapter with membership near 15,000. The organization hosts conferences throughout the year that include workshops, speakers and competitions.

Competitions like the one Medina-Fuentes, Butryn and Weiss excelled in.

Crestview High has never had students qualify for state HOSA competition before and thus, never had students make it to nationals.

The International Leadership Conference will take place June 21-24, also in Orlando. While the school district covers travel and expenses to other competitions, it won’t be able to cover fees associated with the national event, according to McKenzie.

She plans to seek sponsorships and donors to help raise the money for students to attend.