High school students, in addition to navigating those tricky teenage years, must begin the process of making one of the most important decisions anyone ever makes: What will I do with my life?

Programs like Neptune High School’s Jumpstart Academy offer students a chance to explore academic and career opportunities, while they are enrolled in a traditional high school program. Students participate in job-shadowing and internship programs, both of which provide an up-close look at what different professions entail. Students also have specific academic opportunities and experiences, such as courses, lectures and field trips that prepare them for a career in a particular field.

In October Neptune’s Jumpstart Medical Science Academy was honored by the New Jersey School Boards Association with the 2015 School Leader Award. The award recognizes innovative programs in New Jersey public schools.

The Medical Science Academy is one of seven Jumpstart programs in the district; the others include Communications; Education; Engineering; Environmental Science; Law and Criminal Justice; and Performing Arts. All require students to apply for admission.

The Medical Science Academy program is rigorous, requiring students to take courses such as AP Biology, and Anatomy and Physiology. Although the Academy focuses on topics suited to those interested in attending medical school, the school has also developed programs to address those students who have an interest in other medical careers. Neptune has partnered with Jersey Shore Medical Center and Rutgers University’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School to create programs and experiences that give students exposure to many facets of the healthcare industry. Students are also trained to be certified in CPR.

There are 100 Neptune students in grades 9-12 enrolled in the program, which began in 2008.

Students participate in programs such as Differential Diagnosis, biweekly hospital departmental visits, CPR training, medical school simulation labs, Mini-Medical School and “Live from Surgery” programs. Each is designed to develop an interest through hands-on learning.

During Differential Diagnosis, JumpStart Academy students meet with medical students from Robert Wood Johnson to analyze actual cases presented in the hospital. The medical students prepare the high school students on the topics and they work together to find solutions for the patients. These sessions are guided by the instructors at the medical school.

The biweekly hospital visits are designed to maximize student exposure to a variety of departments in the hospital. It is often from these visits that students decide on volunteer assignments at the hospital. It is also through these visits that students are also given the opportunity to train in the state-of-the-art simulation labs at Jersey Shore University Hospital alongside student nurses and residents.

The centerpiece of the Jumpstart Medical School Academy is the Mini-Medical School. Working in partnership with Rutgers’ Robert Wood Johnson and Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Neptune offers mini-medical school as a unique experience for high school students who are interested in careers in medicine. During this six-week experience, students participate in a medical-school-style curriculum, spend time in the hospital and engage in hands-on experiences in anatomy, microbiology, and clinical skills. Since its inception in September 2013, the program has graduated nearly 200 students from Ocean and Monmouth counties. (Mini-Medical School is open to students from other high schools in those counties.)

Neptune’s latest partnership is with Liberty Science Center (LSC). Starting in fall 2015, LSC began simulcasting its program “Live from Surgery” at Neptune High School. “Live from Surgery” programs, held at Liberty Science Center, broadcast a surgery live from an operating room. Examples of surgeries broadcast include kidney transplants, heart transplants, neurosurgery, and orthopedic surgery. During the broadcast, an educator moves around the room, showing students medical equipment and models of human organs. While the programs at LSC are open to students from all schools, Neptune worked out a partnership which will bring these simulcast sessions to the school.

The funding for Jumpstart Medical Science Academy comes from the Neptune Township Board of Education; Meridian Healthcare; Rutgers’ Robert Wood Johnson Medical School; New Jersey Hospital Association; and the Ann May Center for Nursing.

Lori Dalelio is Jumpstart Medical Science Academy program coordinator at Neptune High School.