(Lander) — Thirty-three middle school students from Lander, Wind River and Dubois spent most of the day Friday at Lander Regional Hospital in the first program of its kind in Wyoming to give students an opportunity to explore and experience various healthcare career options.
The goal of the REACH Program, an acronym for Research and Explore Awesome Careers in Healthcare, is to increase awareness, interest and understanding of health careers available in rural Wyoming. The 33 students were divided into four groups and toured the hospital, receiving hands-on experiences from hospital staff members in a dozen different activities.
“This is the first time we’ve done this in Wyoming,” said Michelle Hoffman of Cheyenne, director of the Office of Rural Health, in the Rural and Frontier Health Division of the Wyoming Department of Health. “We’re focusing on middle school students now so they may begin taking the necessary classes in high school to put themselves on an appropriate path for a career that interests them.”
The REACH program was coordinated locally by Fremont County BOCES. Career and Technical Director Kristen Benson said the Lander experience is the first of two such REACH programs FC BOCES is coordinating locally, the second coming up next month at Riverton Memorial Hospital.
“We sincerely appreciate the support of the administration and staff at Lander Regional Hospital for taking time out of their day to meet with, tour and give the students hands-on experiences,” Benson said.
For one Lander Middle School student who said he wants to enter the medical profession, Friday’s event was time well spent. “I want to be able to help people,” said Garrett Coffman, whose mother is a dental assistant and whose father is a paramedic. “I learned a lot about different areas today. I was thinking of maybe dentistry or anesthesiology before today, but now I think I could also take an interest in radiology. It was very interesting to me overall,” Coffman said.
Kristine Aragon, a seventh grade student at LMS, said she is considering a nursing career. “My grandma was a nurse in Washington,” she said, “so I was kind of interested in that career to begin with. What we experienced today was fun and interesting and it reinforced that I want to be a nurse,” she said. Aragon also said she enjoyed the group activities of the day.
While students did not have any contact with patients under treatment at the hospital, they visited most specialty areas. Demonstrations of equipment and explanation of services were included in visits to the hospital’s operating room, outpatient surgery center, the respiratory, physical therapy, and radiology departments, the Women’s health and medical/surgical units and support services such a dietary, the hospital’s lab, environmental services and post anesthesia care areas. Students were taught safety practices for infection and contamination control and took turns in such activities at taking blood pressures, determining blood oxygen levels and learning about the capacity of their lungs to hold air. Students also x-rayed candy bars and learned about the powerful magnet inside the hospital’s MRI diagnostic center.
In a closing event, all 33 students participated in a mock emergency room drill, taking turns as doctors and nurses treating a variety of mock injuries. The activity also included the unexpected arrival of several “apocolypic zombies” who crashed the drill.
Emergency Room nurse Tina Harrenga said the mock injuries and zombies were planned to tests the students’ abilities to focus on their patients while dealing with distractions. “When you are in the emergency room, you don’t know what to expect or who is coming into the room,” she told the students. “You have to work as a team and be prepared for anything.”
In closing remarks to the group, the health department’s Hoffman told students that many jobs in healthcare are available. “We have a shortage of healthcare workers in Wyoming, which will grow as the population becomes older,” she said.
Benson suggested students should look at the CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) curriculum that FC BOCES provides in the local high schools “as a good start to learn even more about healthcare options and needs” as they plan their future careers.