The 11th annual Careers in Health Summer Institute just wrapped up last week, and Sharyn Turner, coordinator of school health for the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools, was searching for a way to explain the program’s importance.
“I remember one girl who took the program three times, as a ninth-, tenth-, and twelfth-grade student,” she said. “She lived with her grandma on very limited resources, and although very smart, was really high risk. But she focused on nursing, and learned what was necessary to become a nurse through this program. Completing most of her prerequisite courses at Sierra College, she was accepted into three different baccalaureate nursing programs with a full scholarship.”
Other students have learned enough about health careers to pursue summer jobs in the field, or jobs that will help them work their ways through college, she said.
“One young man finished the program, held at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital (SNMH), and asked where the human resources office was located,” Turner added. “I took him right up to the office. He was interviewed, and ended up getting hired. He worked his way through school on that job.”
Nevada County Schools and SNMH have been working together for more than 10 years to offer local young people a menu of career choices in health care. (The program is supported by the hospital and partially funded by grants, as well as by the 49er Rotary Club and Soroptimist International-Sierra Foothills.)
“We couldn’t do this without the support of the hospital,” Turner said.
“We realized we could expose young adults to a wide variety of options in health care,” Debbie Wagner, RN, director of physician recruitment and community outreach for the hospital. “The program demystifies the hospital as a workplace and shows these kids that health care includes much more than just being a doctor or a nurse.”
Wagner said the program includes tours of each hospital department, and participants are also trained in CPR.
“Our feedback is always positive,” Turner said. “This program really works, and how else are kids going to learn about career options in health care? That’s especially important because there is a huge shortage in some health fields, and health reform is going make the demand grow even more. I tell the participants that health care changes so rapidly they may wind up in fields for which job titles don’t even exist yet.”
She also observed that the exposure to SNMH lets students know they can select a health career, go away to earn a degree, and then come back and work at the hospital in their hometown.
Classes are held at the hospital, with each day focusing on a different “pathway” into health careers, Turner explained. The pathways give students a glimpse into a wide assortment of careers in the fields of therapeutic services (hands on, from nursing to physical therapy), diagnostics (radiology, lab, and nuclear medicine), support services (housekeeping, dietary), informatics (medical records and other management handling), and research (biomedicine, pharmacology).
Turner is especially pleased that the institute’s classes are held at the hospital, because students can see what a hospital environment is like, and have direct exposure to health care professionals. For example, one day the students meet and have lunch with a group of doctors.
“One student expressed an interest in pursuing a career as an ear/nose/throat physician,” Turner said. “So I arranged for Dr. Janette Carpenter, who is board-certified in otolaryngology, to be at the luncheon and demonstrate some of the equipment she uses.”
Turner said she tries to keep enrollment at the institute to between 15 and 18 students, although as many as 25 have been accommodated. A counselor or some other responsible adult must refer participants. They must complete an application form and submit an essay about their interests, why they want to enroll, and promise they are willing to commit their time to it.
The next institute is scheduled to start June 16, 2014, she said.
“Students can find the application form online (www.nevco.org/exploring-health-careers). I keep a waiting list, so they can call me and get their name added,” Turner noted.
All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.