Alyssa Sutton

A select group of high school students are spending part of their summer break on the Eastern Oregon University campus as they decide if a future in the medical field is the best fit for them during this year’s MedQuest camp that is taking place all week.

The Northeast Oregon Area Health Education Center’s week-long residential health career exploration camp is open to students from all over Oregon who have a proven interest in pursuing a health career. The camp includes job shadows, CPR certification, emergency response training, presentations from medical professionals and skills lab activities at the OHSU School of Nursing facilities at Eastern.

This year, 35 of the 60 students who applied for the camp were accepted based on their extracurricular involvement, essays, GPA, passion for the health care field and many other factors, according to the NEOAHEC website. The cost for the week is $400, which covers dorms, food and all activities.

“It’s important for (students) to attend the camp to find out if the medical field is something they want to go into,” said NEOAHEC’s administrative and outreach coordinator, Brittany Hargrove. “It’s just as important they find out if (the medical field) isn’t for them.”

For three local students, a future in the medical field is something they all are fairly certain about.

La Grande’s Kristal Jensen, who will be a junior next fall, is interested in emergency services, so it’s not a surprise that the highlight of the camp for her thus far was the ER visit.

“I’ve always liked medical stuff,” said Jensen, who’s attending MedQuest for the first time. “When I was really little, my brother had to go to the ER because he got bit in the lip by our dog and had to get stitches. That was so interesting to me.”

She said she likes how quickly nurses and doctors work in an emergency setting.

“Something can happen and they’re automatically like, ‘Yeah, I can take care of this.’”

With a family full of members in the medical field, recently graduated Arie de Lint also has an interest in emergency response and is hoping to become an EMT paramedic and firefighter.

The Cove High School graduate will be attending Eastern for the first few years of his higher education before most likely transferring to Oregon State University.

“I’ve always found it interesting,” de Lint said of the medical field. “I lost my grandpa at a young age to a heart attack and have always wanted to save people.”

He wasn’t the only student present who has a personal reason for being interested in the medical field.

Recently graduated Sierra Bingham from North Powder is the oldest of five children, and has received two heart transplants –– her first in 2006 and a replacement in 2015 –– due to dilated cardiomyopathy, a life-threatening heart disease in which the heart becomes enlarged and stretched, causing it to be weak and reducing its ability to pump blood effectively. Two of Bingham’s four siblings have had a transplant each.

Her field of choice is pediatric nursing.

On Bingham’s application essay she wrote she’s “interested in a health-related career because I have grown up surrounded by wonderful, inspiring nurses. I have had two heart transplants and appreciated the care they gave me. I am drawn to the medical field. My mother is also a nurse.”

It was no surprise then, that her favorite part of the day included a trip to a clinic that saw a few young patients.

“Today I job shadowed at the women’s clinic and it was interesting,” Bingham, who will be attending Brigham Young University in the fall, said to The Observer. “We saw a couple babies and gave them vaccines.”

This is the 26th year of the MedQuest camp. Speakers who currently work within the medical field, as well as medical students, come to speak to the students about their experiences. Additionally, members from Eastern talk to students about scholarships and financial aid to prepare them for the steps to be taken while preparing to attend college. Students also stay in the dorms on campus to get a feel for college living, Hargrove said.

John Combe, of Combe Wellness Center in La Grande, was one of the very first campers at MedQuest.

“I’ve supported the camp for the continuum since,” Combe said. “I came back as a camp counselor (after being a camper) and served on the community provider side since.”

While Combe said it didn’t make a huge impact on his current career, he does believes the camp can be an important building block for students.

“Any exposure for youth is better, rather than going to school and finding out it’s not for them. I think it’s a super opportunity,” he said, “better than going to school and finding out (the medical field is) not for them.”

According to a NEOAHEC blog post, many community partners have donated to the 2018 MedQuest scholarship fund to ensure all students accepted to the camp were able to attend regardless of their ability to pay camp tuition. Sponsors included Lewis, Poe, Moeller, Gunderson, & Roberts LLC, CPAs; Koza Family Dental; the Eastern Oregon Coordinated Care Organization’s Local Community Advisory Council; and Mark L. Harris, DMD, PC. Grande Ronde Hospital is responsible for in-kind donations of more than 150 hours annually through shadows, tours and staff time.

“We are strong supporters of NEOAHEC and their mission to educate and inspire the next generation of Eastern Oregon health care professionals, said Jim Mattes, president and CEO of Grande Ronde Hospital, in the blog post. “They provide a valuable service to ensure quality health care thrives in rural areas like ours.”

The camp ends Friday afternoon after multiple job shadow opportunities, simulated emergency situations, alternative and emergency medicine rotations and therapy-related learning. Students can begin applying for next year’s camp in December, and limited scholarships are available. For more information, go to or call 541-962-3422.