Roanoke high school students organize club to explore health careers

If extracurricular activities like playing sports and joining the debate team liven up your high school curriculum, imagine what landing a helicopter on the football field can do.

That’s exactly what Kaylee Hagadorn and Sarah Arner, both students at Hidden Valley High School in Roanoke County, did in November as co-presidents of the Medical Explorers Club, which offers members an opportunity to learn about careers in health care. .

According to the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, the supply of health workers in all fields will increase by 5% from 2020 to 2025, and the demand will increase by 13%. But this is not just a future problem. As recently as 2020, Virginia had nearly 300 fewer health workers than needed.

“We have an aging population,” said Cynthia Lawrence, director of workforce development at Roanoke-based Carilion Clinic. “With the post-millennial demographic decline, there will be more people to provide care and a smaller pool.” [Disclosure: Carilion is one of our approximately 2,500 donors but donors have no say in news decisions; see our policy.]

Medical explorers club with helicopter. Photo by shae torrence.

Offering tours from a medical helicopter can be a way to attract young people to the area. Sarah said so many students were interested in the event that organizers had to limit attendance to club members only. And when it comes to the feat, it doesn’t hurt that Sarah’s dad, Steve Arner, is the executive vice president and chief operating officer of Carilion Clinic, the largest helicopter medical transport service in Southwest Virginia.

The club meets twice a month to hear from medical professionals, and every few months there is a special program, such as a helicopter demonstration. In February, club members were given an ambulance tour by David Danco and Jon Riggins, volunteer EMTs from the Cave Spring Rescue Squad.

Danco discussed education requirements and salaries with nearly two dozen attendees. It gave them an idea of ​​what a typical shift looks like and outlined the job opportunities available to a trained EMT. “It’s a good entry point into the medical profession,” he said.

Kaylee Hagadorn. Photo by Betsy Biesenbach.

Kaylee, an 11th grader who organized the group at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year, created the ambulance ride. There are about 35 members in the club, he said, with about 25 showing up to each meeting. Everyone is thinking about careers in the medical field.

“It’s one of the biggest groups in the school,” with about 850 students, said Nathan Hunt, the club’s sponsor. He teaches business classes and sponsors the DECA club, which emphasizes leadership and entrepreneurial skills.

In addition to her regular school day, Kaylee is in DECA, is on the swim team, and works as an EMT with the Cave Spring Rescue Squad, pulling a 12- to 24-hour shift a week.

He said he wanted to work in the medical field since he was a child.

Sarah Arner. Photo by Betsy Biesenbach.

“I try to do everything I can to get more experience,” he said. Although her father is a doctor, when she decided to become an EMT, she said her parents were hesitant. “But now it’s fine. They know I enjoy it.”

Kaylee hopes to become a physician’s assistant, but said, “I didn’t even know that was a thing,” until she started the club.

Sarah is in 12th grade. He will graduate high school a year early, and in addition to being in DECA, he does cross country and track. He wanted to be an optometrist since he was 12 years old, after listening to an optometrist’s presentation, even though he said his eyesight is perfect. He said his grandfather was a doctor, and he was offered early admission to Brigham Young University.

Aayush Patel. Photo by Betsy Biesenbach

Club member Aayush Patel is in 11th grade and is also in DECA. He plays soccer and wants to be a dentist.

“I’ve always wanted to go into the medical field,” she explained. “Dentistry is interesting, and there’s a lot to solve.”

Her father is an emergency department physician at LewisGale Medical Center in Salem, she said, and while he hasn’t encouraged her to pursue a medical career, he has “encouraged her.”

Shae Torrence. Photo by Betsy Biesenbach

Shae Torrence, an 11th grader is also in DECA and plays volleyball. In addition, he is the president and founder of the school’s photography club. After taking pictures of his friends from the Medical Explorers Club, he decided to join. Her mother is a registered nurse, she said, and Shae has spent a lot of time in the office where she works. Shae is interested in childhood trauma and would like to become a psychiatrist.

“There are a lot of opportunities in the medical field,” said Chuck Lionberger, director of community relations for Roanoke County Public Schools, in technical fields including cybersecurity, mechatronics and specialized HVAC installation and maintenance for hospitals. Similar programs have been held at the county’s Burton Center for Arts and Technology, which houses the system’s vocational schools, he said.

Lionberger said the school system is working with the Blue Ridge Partnership for Health Science Careers, a partnership of educators, employers and economic development professionals in the Roanoke and New River valleys, the Alleghany Highlands and the greater Lynchburg region. The organization recently held a counselors’ workshop to teach students how to steer students into health care careers, with Roanoke County schools participating, Lionberger said.

Lawrence is also the founding executive director of the partnership. According to the group’s website, its goal is to improve health science education and align instruction in public schools and postsecondary education to meet the workforce needs of regional health care employers. It advertises itself as “your one-stop shop for information on navigating a career in the health sciences.”

Partners in the partnership include three acute care centers in GO Virginia Region 2 – the New River-to-Lynchburg region, which is part of a statewide organization that encourages collaboration to increase economic development – and five long-term care centers. home care company and Freedom First Federal Credit Union.

“They have a commitment to this region for workforce development,” Lawrence said of the bank’s involvement.

Founded in 2019, the partnership and non-profit 501 (c) (4) status receives funding from the Claude Moore Charitable Foundation and the Commonwealth of Virginia, as well as through various grants. It serves as a resource for the region’s 17 school districts, as well as public and private institutions of higher learning. It also offers scholarships for secondary school students.

“We want to guarantee the courses [the schools offer] they are demanding in meeting the needs of our organizations,” said Lawrence, and while many of the member entities are technically competitors, “we work very well together. We realize [the partnership] it increases employment for the entire region.” It’s an important goal, she said, since 38 percent of registered nurses who graduate in Virginia work out of state. “We really want it to stay in the region.”

In the future, Lawrence said, the partnership hopes to work with the Virginia Department of Education to establish a core curriculum for use in health career education across the state.

“The greatest value of the Blue Ridge Partnership for Health Science Careers has been bringing people around the table to discuss these needs and opportunities and find solutions to make them happen,” said Lawrence. As far as he knows, the partnership is “unique” for Virginia. “No one else has put together such a collaborative approach.”

Programs include everything from mobile health science labs and a science and career fair to germs and fitness lesson plans for kindergarteners in an effort to get students thinking about health careers as early as possible.

“The sooner the better,” Lawrence said. “This is a whole ecosystem. It’s not just about bedside care.’

Lawrence said he doesn’t know of anything like the Medical Explorers Club, which was started by the students themselves, anywhere else in the region. But he said if the club needed resources, the partnership was there to help.

Kaylee said the students started the club because while they could easily research health care careers online, “having people come in person and be able to ask questions provided valuable information.”

He said the students had to make a plan of what they wanted to do, find a sponsor and then promote the club. Their experience with DECA made that part easier, she said. They made flyers, included information in the school’s morning announcements and created an Instagram account.

“It was something we felt was important to our members,” Aayush said. In fact, he said, one of his friends who came to the helicopter tour event had not even considered a career in the health professions, but changed his mind after seeing the demonstration.

As with everything else in their young lives, the students’ plans for the future were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in the middle of their freshman year.

Lionberger explained that Roanoke County schools operated on a different plan than most other systems. Students could choose to stay home or participate in a hybrid environment that offered two days of in-school instruction and three virtual days per week.

Kaylee and Shae stayed home.

“The hardest part was disconnecting from friends,” Kaylee said.

“My mom kept me at home because of my asthma,” Shae said. “It was a lot to keep in my head,” she admitted about homeschooling. “I have to be in class to really soak it in. Being with other kids is important.”

Aayush and Sarah opted for a hybrid system.

“I thought it was easy to do,” Sarah said. “I studied more, maybe because there was less work.”

“If we were younger it would have been more difficult,” said Aayush. But all the interviewed students agreed that they had reached the grade level by that time.

One upside to the hiatus was that when they returned to school full time, the seniors, who usually run all the clubs, were too busy to do it this year, Kaylee said.

“It was a good opportunity to participate.”

Another upside, he said, is that many colleges no longer require standardized tests for admission.

Kaylee said she reached out to Roanoke Valley Governor’s School students who wanted to start her own club, but according to a school spokesperson, a club never materialized.

He said, while he admits it’s easier to operate this type of club when members are so close to the medical community and have many relationships, students living in more distant areas can do something similar with virtual visits from different health professionals. .

Lawrence agreed. A big part of the partnership’s mission, he said, is to bring health care and health education to the most remote parts of the state.

“We want to create a workforce to deliver care in a different way,” he said.

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