Introducing health careers
Spending the day shepherding 150 lively seventh graders around a medical school and acute care hospital might be a daunting task for some people, but for UC Davis Health System, generating interest in health careers make such efforts truly worthwhile.
Students from six capital city middle schools recently gathered at the UC Davis School of Medicine in Sacramento for an introduction to the varied professions that work in health care and medicine.
Working in partnership with the Sacramento City Unified School District, UC Davis hosted a diverse group of 13-year-olds for a career fair and series of hour-long workshops that showcased areas of research and medical practice. The students were introduced to everything from biophotonics (the study of light in biology and medicine) to radiology, anatomy of the brain, and neurological systems.
Organizers of the event say working with young students will eventually help address California's workforce shortage in health care, which could grow dramatically in the coming decade. In addition, each of the participating schools has a high proportion of students who don't have a parent at home with a high school diploma. Many are eligible for reduced-price lunches through the National School Lunch Program.
"We know that we greatly need to reach more students from disadvantaged backgrounds and introduce them to the possibilities and wonders of medicine," said John Shaw, chair of the UC Davis Community Advisory Board and one of the catalysts for the event. "As the state's population increases, ages and diversifies, we have to reach out earlier and more often to promising students in our community who eventually can help us meet the needs of tomorrow's patients."
— Claire Pomeroy, UC Davis School of Medicine Dean
The middle school program is designed to interest young people, especially those from minority backgrounds, in continuing their education and pursuing careers in health care. Organizers hope to establish strong relationships with the students through their high school years and provide guidance and enrollment support for those who are interested in becoming respiratory therapists, pharmacy technicians, radiology specialists and other allied health professions, as well as nurses and physicians.
"For more than 30 years, UC Davis Health System has focused on improving the health of communities across the geographically and culturally diverse Northern California region," said Claire Pomeroy, vice chancellor for Human Health Sciences and dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine. "We serve Sacramento, where more than 70 languages are spoken, and many remote and rural areas of the state. Ensuring that our workforce reflects the diversity of the communities we serve is crucial to our ability to deliver quality, culturally-competent care and to our goal of reducing health disparities. Inviting youngsters into our medical school and hospital is an important way to teach them about the learning opportunities and exciting career possibilities in health care."
According to UC San Francisco's Center for the Health Professions, six of the top 10 fastest-growing occupations over the next 10 years will be in the allied health professions, a group of caregivers and service providers that includes medical assistants, dietitians, physical therapy assistants, diagnostic medical sonographers, cardiovascular technologists and physician assistants. UC Davis Health System is one of the primary training hubs for health-care workers, serving as a clinical location where students complete a variety of internships and certificate programs.
In addition to its School of Medicine and its proposed Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, UC Davis has trained more than 1,600 specialty nurses and physician assistants in its Family Nurse Practitioner and Physician Assistant program for careers in medical offices and hospitals throughout the state.
"We not only want to open younger eyes and minds to the opportunities that await them in both studies and careers," added Shaw, "we want to reach students who otherwise might never be exposed to these types of career opportunities. To meet the future challenges of a growing population, our educational pipeline needs to target minority and disadvantaged students for careers in medicine and other allied health fields."
The half-day event involved a number of hands-on activities, including a demonstration involving the school's computerized training mannequins, which can simulate a variety of emergency medical situations. Students also enjoyed a fun-filled career fair in the School of Medicine's courtyard, along with various sessions that included representatives from pathology, pharmacy, medical interpreting, nursing, medical coding and other health system departments.