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Inside the Bay Area’s only medical high school: Dozier-Libbey Medical High

Dozier-Libbey Medical High School teacher Kim O’Leary, background on left, watches as students practice lifting a student on a spinal board to simulate pre-hospital trauma care during one of the EMS exercises on campus. Photo courtesy Dozier-Libbey Medical High School Yearbook team
Dozier-Libbey Medical High School teacher Kim O’Leary, background on left, watches as students practice lifting a student on a spinal board to simulate pre-hospital trauma care during one of the EMS exercises on campus. Photo courtesy Dozier-Libbey Medical High School Yearbook team

In the middle of wheat fields and hills lies a small school with less than 800 students. 

Instead of wearing the latest fashion trends, students dress in scrubs – from top-to-bottom every day – and attend the school for more than the state-mandated curriculum. They are learning medical terminologies, anatomy, how to save the lives of others and more, and are preparing to be society’s future doctors, nurses, surgeons and health-related professionals.

Dozier-Libbey Medical High School in Antioch is the Bay Area’s only health academy for high schoolers. Its history dates back to 2005, under a plan by the Antioch Unified School District to build a third comprehensive high school. At that time, a job market analysis found that Antioch’s in-demand careers for the next 10 years were health careers. 

Opened in August 2008, the campus is named after two physicians – Drs. Thomas Dozier and Joseph H. Libbey, who practiced in the area from the 1930s through late 1980s. Admission to the school is chiefly for students who live in the Antioch United School District. The closest school of this kind is found in Stockton, known as Health Careers Academy.

Eight teachers were recruited for the initial project, with Kim O’Leary being one of them. Today, she teaches Health Science 3 and Sports Medicine at Dozier, one of the state’s Regional Occupational Centers and Programs (ROCPs). 

“We got to go to other [medical] schools all over the country to see what they were doing,” O’Leary said of the early days. “Some of that was in Texas, and we got to go look and see what they did. And we built our four year course of study, that was really where we started.”

From 9th to 12th grade, students take a diverse mix of medical classes that allow them to explore the medical field and see which health career fits them best. They are challenged with a rigorous curriculum, which has produced several alum who’ve continued studying in medical- and first responder-related fields.

Theme classes for different grade levels

All classes link together through a special, yearlong integrated project – each with a different focus for each grade level. For example, the 11th-grade class theme is called the “Medical Museum,” and features an era and a specific disease where students create fictional characters representing them. In English, they’ll create journal entries to detail the experience of their character. In Mathematics, they’ll do a graph data analysis on the population and impact of the era and disease. In Health, they’ll create a Subjective, Objective, Assessment and Plan – or SOAP – notes of the character and put all pieces together in an immersive skit. Two months later, students present their work on Project Day and during an open house.

Physiology is also a part of the curriculum, where 11th graders study the extensive details and functions of the human body with hands-on labs such as heart dissections. Unlike most high schools, students at Dozier take Health Science all four years. Depending on the year they are in the class, students will learn more about the different medical career paths they could take and may “create”  their own medicines; write SOAP notes, which is the common method of documentation in health care; as well, possibly wear pregnancy bellies and take care of robotic babies to simulate motherhood. 

The final health class – Medical Ethics – teaches 12th graders to become good citizens, especially in the health care field; examining moral flaws in the industry and how the future generations can learn how to respond differently in certain situations. A unique project called “Be the Change” is done in this class, too, where all students focus on advocating and coordinating a specific change in their community. Finally, 12th graders also participate in the “Red Sand Project.” 

Other classes offered include:

  • Spanish for Health Sciences – A community college coordinated class that teaches students about medical concepts and terminologies in Spanish.
  • Math for Health Sciences – Teaches specific math concepts akin to what to expect in the health field.
  • Advanced Public Health – Further explores and prepares students for community health tasks.
  • ROP Sports Medicine – Where students can learn to aid athletic injuries.

One of the classes that instructor Gretchen Medel teaches and encourages students to take is the First Responders class where teens not only learn first-aid techniques, they experience unique field trips and simulations to apply knowledge learned, such as car crash extrication simulations, skits, boarding students on spinal boards and more. 

“We used to go to UCSF to the pathology lab,” said Robert Young, another one of the original teachers at Dozier who teaches Physiology and AP Biology. “They would have these specimens from human beings that had been taken out.” 

Despite the medical focus, Dozier still offers many clubs and events for all student interests.  

Students learn much more than medicine

Recent graduate Aminah Ahmady now attends Los Medanos Community College in Pittsburg and hopes to transfer to University of California, Davis, to pursue medicine. Her original goal, however, was to be a surgeon. She said Dozier’s program broadened her knowledge about the various career paths she could choose. She added that the school’s challenging courses and curriculum are unique.

Young said at Dozier, students learn much more than medicine. Morals, organization and preparation for higher education are just a few. And along with fellow teacher O’Leary, both remember the words of the late Gary Agopian, the school board member who highly advocated for Dozier to be built. 

Agopian’s vision was that “Dozier-Libbey is an elite school, not a school for elite students,” Young said. 

*Additional resources:

Sophia Goyena is an 11th grader at Dozier-Libbey Medical High School in Antioch.

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    EllenMar 24, 2024 at 7:22 am

    Yes! My daughter has graduated from UC Davis and currently taking MCATs to get into medical school or Anesthesia assistant ( like a Physician Assistant but managing surgical patient’s anesthesia). Dozier was great for her! She is currently working with a dermatologist and assisting in surgeries and also was an ER scribe. I hope they allow students to choose Dozier and not do a random selection, because you want to keep it elite and with students who are truly interested in the medical field. Otherwise, if they accept anyone randomly, you will hurt the school’s noble endeavors which hurts the other students. They had wonderful teachers such as Mr. Libbey who were dedicated to the students and school’s objective!

    • S

      SophiaMar 27, 2024 at 6:36 pm

      Hello Ellen! Thank you for reading my story. I’m glad you found it resourceful. To this day, Dozier has many dedicated, productive students who work hard towards their medical futures and similar fields- I’ve met lots. It’s awesome to hear your daughter was one of them. Wishing her all the best in the near future as a healthcare professional! 🙂