What the high school students knew about anatomy impressed the professor.

They could locate important organs in a confusing chart, and they knew the differences between arteries and blood vessels. 

But what really impressed the teacher was that all 26 students were sitting — by choice — in a classroom on a sunny summer morning.  

After all, that's not what he would have chosen to do when he was a teenager.

"I wanted to be out chasing girls and fishing or playing video games," said Bert Swafford, an associate professor in the physician assistant program at Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University.

Instead of basking in lazy summer days, these students fought to join the three-week Summer Ambassadors program at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center.

More than 100 teens apply each year. This year, just 26 were chosen.

Designed to prepare the next generation of doctors and medical professionals for careers in health care, the three-week series of workshops, classes and volunteer opportunities allow area high school students to get a behind-the-scenes look at the hospital and classes at the university, formerly called Our Lady of the Lake College.

These aren't just high school students looking for a summer activity to pad college applications. 

"I have always had a passion for the medical field, and I want to get as much exposure in it as possible," said Gabe Renaud, a 16-year-old student at Dutchtown High School who plans to go to medical school. "I feel it’s so interesting how with a little bit of education and a passion, one person can help so many lives become better."

Like Renaud, each of these students aspires to a career in medicine, said Carletha Quincy, the supervisor of volunteer services for Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. Each undergoes a written and verbal interview. 

"We really probe to find out if their interest is in health care," Quincy said. "They are legitimately interested."

Most of the ambassadors already have volunteered in a hospital and have settled on a career, she said. Others have spent time as patients themselves.

With over 13 surgeries to repair a cleft lip and palette, Olivia Williams, 17, began to admire the work of nurse anesthetists who administer anesthesia before and during an operation. Now she dreams of becoming one herself. 

"Any time I have ever encountered one, they are always so reassuring and so sweet to me and my family," Williams said "And they are just upbeat."

Throughout the Summer Ambassadors program, the students met doctors, nurses and other medical professionals and took classes every Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. They learned how organ donation works and scrubbed in to watch surgeons in the operating room. Every Tuesday and Thursday, the students volunteered at Our Lady of the Lake and shadowed medical staff. 

Williams and Renaud served in the pediatrics ward, checking in on children after operations and tending to their needs.

On their last Wednesday class, the students learned about anatomy and the new teaching tools used at the university. Then they toured the rooms used to simulate patient-nurse interactions. In one room, a mannequin sweated and ran a fever. In another, a woman mannequin gave birth to a doll. 

These scenes, along with first-hand views of the operating room and conversations with medical professionals, unveiled another dimension of medical care for Renaud. Brochures and textbooks can't portray the reality of a hospital, he said.

"What most people think of the medical field is it’s all clean and happy, and you just take care of people," Renaud said. "A lot of times it can be depressing and just gross."

But pulling back the curtain on the grittier aspects of health care hasn't shaken his resolve, he said. 

"If anything, it has strengthened my desire to go into the medical field," he said.

Follow Kyle Peveto on Twitter, @kylepeveto.