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TURNOUT GEAR GETS A THUMBS UP from junior Rebekah Esselstrom of Mountain View High School in Bend as part of this year’s MedQuest camp, which gives Oregon high school students the opportunity to explore different health careers through group sessions and individual rotations. Esselstrom said the camp confirmed her goal of becoming a surgeon or a nurse in the ER. (LISA McMAHAN / The Observer)
It’s an invitation not typically extended to high schoolers.
“If somebody wants to play, let’s go!” engineer Jeff Frantum of the La Grande Fire Department said, pointing to the Jaws of Life.Standing on pavement littered with glass shards, the students took turns donning firefighting turnout gear, sawing through the windshield and using the jaws of life to pry apart an old car, learning how firefighters gain access into a vehicle while protecting passengers inside.
The extreme hands-on experience was part of MedQuest Health Career Choices Camp, a week-long experience designed for students interested in health care careers.
This year, 32 Oregon high-school-aged students from 26 communities met to explore health professions in the camp, which was facilitated by the Northeast Oregon Area
Health Education Center, or NEOAHEC.
“This is a pretty intense opportunity for them to explore a lot of careers,” Executive Director Amy Dunkak said. “They spend a whole week learning about health care.”
The organization was established in 1990 and the camp is marking its 18th year in a big way.
“This is a record year for us,” NEOAHEC Education Coordinator and Camp Director Brenna Dunlap said. “We’re at capacity.”
Students who wish to attend the camp must go through an extensive application process, Dunlap said, including letters of recommendation, meeting GPA requirements and writing an essay.
Dunlap worked to collect donations to enable everyone to attend.
“We were able to solicit over $10,000 in scholarship funds,” Dunlap said. “Every kid here that needed scholarship money to go to camp got it.”
The camp also works with more than 50 local health care providers that host tours and lead job shadows with the students.
The week was packed with time spent at Mountain Valley Therapy, Grande Ronde Hospital, Loveland Funeral Chapel, Kehr Chiropractic, ODS and the La Grande Fire Department, among other locations. Students learned about blood typing and medical labs at EOU’s Badgley Hall.
“We have a lot of group activities, but it’s also really tailored to the individual,” Dunlap said. “Every student has three rotations.”
The rotations differed depending on students’ intended future professions.
Ian McLean, a senior from Imbler, toured the hospital’s intensive care unit Friday. He is interested in physical therapy or biological engineering and had the opportunity to speak with a biology professor at Eastern.
Junior Rebekah Esselstrom goes to Mountain View High School in Bend and used the week to learn more about becoming a surgeon or nurse in the ER.
“I got to spend a couple of hours in the ER. It was really exciting for me,” she said. “(The camp) just kind of confirmed what I want to do.”
The camp helps focus goals and, in some cases, shows students options they might not have considered.
They are also exposed to real-life working conditions and the flexibility certain careers demand.
Thursday’s demonstrations, organized by fire Capt. Corky Gillies, gave students a taste of on-call life.
Thursday’s Life Flight demonstration was pushed back when the helicopter was called out, and the jaws of life demonstration at the
La Grande Fire Department was also interrupted before the car was transformed into a convertible.
Staff and students quickly switched gears, filing inside for a CPR demonstration.
The lessons are planned with students in mind, as are the rest of the week’s activities.
Students stay on campus at Eastern and looked forward to evening recreation activities, including swimming and miniature golf.
The staff members are especially suited for the tasks at hand, Dunkak said.
“Many have been in camps or are medical students,” she said. “That’s what’s great about our camp staff.”
The camp is part of NEOAHEC’s goal of improving rural health care, helping students earn degrees and encouraging them to keep their skills in Oregon.
“That’s our objective at the end of the day,” Dunkak said.
NEOAHEC was founded after the federal government realized the need for rural community health care.
“If there wasn’t some action taken, we were going to be in a world of hurt,” Dunkak said.
The organization offers two other experiential camps through OHSU, its “mothership,’’ Dunkak said, and students are encouraged to attend those.
NEOAHEC covers 12 counties, and there are four other Area Health Education Centers in Oregon. The non-profit organization has eight houses — including one in Enterprise — where medical students complete their clinicals with local health care providers.
“We provide education from elementary school to med school,” Dunkak said. “It’s pretty phenomenal when you look at the whole picture.”