Camp allows students to explore medical fields

Although many areas of the University of South Dakota have slowed down for the summer months, the Sanford School of Medicine was alive with activity last week.

Nona Bixler, director of Volunteer Servies & Service Excellence at the Sanford USD Medical Center, discusses Sanford’s five main values: Courage, passion, advancement, teaching and family. (Photo by Travis Gulbrandson)

That is because it was home to the 2012 Healthcare Careers Camp, which saw 50 high-schoolers from South Dakota and other area states visiting campus from June 17-22 to learn about the various opportunities available to them in the medical field.

"We try to impress upon them, 'These are some of the things you do, these are some of the requirements to be able to do this,'" said camp director Gerald Yutrzenka, Ph.D. "For example, in nursing there are different levels. You have the CNA, all the way up through the Ph.D. nurse, so you have quite a range of things that they could be doing in nursing."

But nursing isn't the only emphasis – during their week at USD the students toured a variety of medical facilities in Vermillion and Sioux Falls, and learned from all kinds of medical professionals, from physical and occupational therapists, to dentists, to pharmacists, to social workers.

"To the extent that we can, we try to bring some of these (professionals) in so the students can experience and learn from them," Yutrzenka said.

Camp coordinator Kathy Van Kley said the students' favorite activities vary from year to year.

"This year they loved touring the gross anatomy lab in the school of medicine, and they also enjoyed touring the Sanford Medical Centers in Sioux Falls and Vermillion," she said. "Another huge one that they loved was, everybody got CPR-certified."

In addition to touring facilities and meeting professionals, the students learned a lesson in values.

During the closing ceremony last Friday, they were addressed by Nona Bixler, director of Volunteer Services & Service Excellence at Sanford USD Medical Center.

Bixler said Sanford emphasizes five major values: Courage, passion, advancement, teaching and family.

All Sanford employees keep these in mind because they are "dedicated to the work of health and healing," she said.

"Every single day, we discover ways to improve health care," Bixler said. "It might be me, it might be someone else, it might be a construction worker, it might be a nurse, it might be a physician – but it's everybody's responsibility, no matter what their job is."

Yutrzenka said 75 applications were received from interested high school students, the majority of whom are entering their junior or senior years.

"We'll contact the school counselors – USD Admissions has those contacts for us – and there's a formal application that they fill out," he said. "We look at their grades, we look if they have ACTs and take those into consideration. There are some questions on there about why they're interested in health care, what are some of the important elements that they have identified.

"What we'll do then is go through those and select those students that we think are already on that track toward health care, and maybe going to college, or certainly some post-secondary education," he said.

Some applicants may unsure as to what area of medicine they're interested in, and that's OK, Yutrzenka said.

"We give them a checklist of things that they might want to hear about, and from that we try to design some of the things we may be able to make available for them," he said.

Van Kley added that the interests of other students may shift by the time the week is finished.

"A lot of them came into the camp thinking they knew what they wanted to do, but by the time they left the found another area that they never heard of that they were interested in," she said. "One of them was audiology. We had never had that in the program before … and a couple of the kids were like, 'I've never heard of that, and I'm really interested in it.'"

Addressing the campers during the closing ceremony, USD President James Abbott said that whatever area they eventually choose, they will be needed to serve both the aging Baby Boom generation and people living in rural and other underserved areas.

"Remember, in this state, by definition rural means virtually every place but Rapid city and Sioux Falls," he said. "At least in our state, the need is everywhere."

Abbott stressed the importance of the students taking leadership roles in healthcare, not only on the medical professional side, but the administrative side, as well..

"It's important, I think, to think about the diversity in healthcare," he said. "As the nation becomes more diverse, the needs in healthcare become even greater because different population groups … have different needs. So that means even more professionals are necessary."

Van Kley said she hopes the students who took part in the camp last week will continue their research after they return home.

"I hope they seek out shadowing opportunities and volunteer opportunities, and that when they head off to college that they have a pretty good idea of where they want to go and what they want to do," she said.

Those opportunities will continue to evolve, Abbott told the attendees.

"We didn't used to talk about health sciences," he said. "We talked about specific things. We now have an undergraduate major in health science because we know that healthcare and health sciences span a spectrum of things that need to be done, where expertise needs to be developed to take care of the folks who live in our state and our country.

"And I think the future of that kind of care rests entirely in your hands," he said.

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