Road trip: UMMC schools unite to draw more students to health care careers
Published on Monday, February 14, 2022
By: Gary Pettus, firstname.lastname@example.org
Unlike many people who have been alive for only 16 years, Kayla Smith already knows what she wants to do with her next 50 or so.
But, like many others who do know, she isn’t sure how and where to start.
“I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, and to be able to care for everyone, from children to elderly people,” said Kayla, 16, a student at Hattiesburg High School. “I want to be a family medicine doctor.”
Still, getting into, and through, medical school is something of a mystery she would like to solve; now, she’s about to be handed valuable clues as one of around 450 potential physicians, nurses, dentists, research scientists, pharmacists, physical and occupational therapists striving to arrive at their future selves.
They are the Mississippi high school juniors and seniors who signed up for Exploring Healthcare Pathways, an unprecedented gesture of cooperative outreach presented by six of the Medical Center health science schools.
They have been given the opportunity to hear from representatives from the schools of dentistry, graduate studies in the health sciences, health related professions, medicine, nursing and pharmacy, all of whom united to bring their stethoscopes, microscopic slides, X-rays and personal experiences to three different public universities on different weekends.
Applicants were asked to pick one of these dates and locations: February 5 at the University of Mississippi in Oxford; February 12 at Mississippi State University in Starkville; or, the final session, upcoming on March 5 in Jackson at Jackson State University – the choice, and nearest site, for Kayla.
“I want to get some insight about the health care field, so I was really eager to apply,” she said. “And I get to learn directly from doctors.”
As they are for everyone, the lessons are free. As are breakfast and lunch. The students need bring only their curiosity.
A field (of dreams) day
The idea is to engage them at a place that is convenient to them. In a way, the program affirms the “Field of Dreams” credo – “If you build it, they will come” – while at the same time, turning it upside down. Because: will they?
“With this program, we are, in a way, able to go to them,” said Dr. Dan Coleman, director of outreach for the School of Medicine. “But, while we’re there, we also need to show them why they should come to us.”
Exploring Healthcare Pathways is not just for those who know what they want to do; it’s also for those who haven’t made up their minds.
“We don’t have the luxury of sitting back and waiting for students to decide to go into heath care careers,” said Dr. Loretta Jackson-Williams, vice dean for medical education in the School of Medicine.
“As a school, we have to be really intentional about educating people about what is required, the time involved.
“It’s also important to tell them why we love what we do, and why we continue to do this – even in these difficult times. We have to figure out how to get them excited about the things we’d like them to get excited about.”
This pitch on behalf of careers in health care was co-authored by the Office of Admissions in the School of Medicine and Improving Primary Care for the Rural Community through Medical Education. IMPACT the RACE is sponsoring the outreach effort with a grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration.
“As far as we know, this is the first collaborative effort among our schools to get together at the same time and take UMMC to the students and their communities,” Coleman said.
A speed date with destiny
The three colleges – JSU, Ole Miss and MSU – were chosen for a reason.
“They have been ecstatic for this opportunity to have an event on their campus that not only spotlights health care careers, but also is about preparing for college,” said Porscha Fuller, community continuing education specialist in the Office of Medical Education at UMMC.
With the day starting at 8:15 a.m. and ending at 2 p.m., the last two hours were reserved for the host institutions to do some recruiting of their own, although the students are not required to remain after lunch.
“I’m amazed at the way these colleges have opened their campuses up to us,” Coleman said. “I believe other schools in the state will see how this works and become interested as well.”
The way it works resembles “speed dating,” said Rakesh Patel, project manager in the School of Medicine.
The high-schoolers rotate among the spaces set aside for each UMMC school’s 20- to 25-minute presentation.
For instance, a game called “Two Truths and a Lie” is on tap in the School of Graduate Studies’ room, said Dr. Hanna Broome, assistant professor of cell and molecular biology.
“The students compete in teams. Three statements about PhD’s flash on a projector screen and they decide which statements are true and which is the lie,” said Broome, assistant dean for graduate education.
Broome is happy to have on hand “a large captive audience” to learn more about the world of scientific research, she said.
“The majority of high schools students may know there is a medical school on our campus, and many may know there is a nursing school and a dental school. But I would be willing to bet that a majority don’t know there is a graduate school.
“This is an opportunity to make the students aware of the PhD path.”
Taking the opportunity to describe paths to careers in occupational therapy, physical therapy, radiological sciences, medical laboratory sciences, histotechnology and more is SHRP’s lookout, and Dr. Driscoll DeVaul, assistant dean of academic affairs for the School of Health Related Professions, is eager to help deliver roadmaps to “our future scholars,” he said.
“Our PT’s are bringing some of their equipment, and the OT’s are bringing educational visual aids.” Slides of microscopic disorders and X-rays are on tap from the realms of medical laboratory sciences and radiologic sciences, DeVaul said.
“This is definitely early seed-planting. It’s a great way to meet our high school students interested in one of our careers, and provide them with a meaningful enrichment experience that moves them in the right direction.
“But this also speaks to SHRP’s engagement in adequately training the next generation of health care professionals and rebuilding the workforce to support UMMC’s mission of improving the health and well-being of patients and communities served.”
For the School of Dentistry, it’s another occasion to enlighten young people about the rewards of the dental profession and “its importance to overall health,” said Dr. Kristin Nalls, assistant dean for student affairs and inclusion, and director of admissions.
All participating UMMC schools are also depending on their own students to grace this outreach program with youth appeal.
“Students dialogue well with our students; that’s why our own are participating,” Patel said.
From the School of Nursing, the presentations feature a video from former nursing students; for the Ole Miss trip, two students answered questions and shared their experiences, said Deann Walter, project manager.
From the School of Pharmacy, “student ambassadors shared their experiences on campus life, juggling their personal lives while in pharmacy school, and why they elected pharmacy as their health care pathway,” said Lindsey Cooper, SOP coordinator of admissions at Ole Miss.
The fact that so many high school students want to hear about UMMC’s educational programs has astonished Jackson-Williams. Each of the host colleges allowed for about 150 participants, and those slots filled up fast.
“The interest this has generated is unreal,” Jackson-Williams said. “The impact this program can have eight years from now is hard to predict. But the immediate impact is that you have a professional school describing what these careers are like to students who may not even know what they want to do.
“Being able to speak to them as mentors can have an impact on them we can’t measure.”