Students learn skills for medical careers

Thirty-nine students from Sanders County schools spent five hours at Clark Fork Valley Hospital learning about the health profession and getting some hands-on training, including the art of sewing up chicken parts.

One of the six stations featured suture instructions under the direction of Randy Mack, a physician assistant at the hospital clinic who used chicken thighs for the practical exercise. Mack, a PA for 17 years, has been showing different groups the skill of suturing and has used chicken parts for about 10 years. Mack learned on pig's feet when at medical school, but he said chicken works a lot better. He said that most of last week's students did a nice job. Several in his groups said they wanted to go into some type of medical field, including Ray Philpott, a junior from Noxon High School, who wants to be a heart surgeon.

The day at the hospital was part of the "Research and Explore Awesome Careers in Healthcare" sponsored by the hospital and Western Montana Area Health Education Center - AHEC - which has its main office on the Montana State University campus in Bozeman.

"The purpose of REACH is to provide Montana high school students a chance to learn about careers within the healthcare field by offering them an opportunity to explore and experience, on-site, a variety of healthcare careers," said Martha Robertson, the program coordinator and the Montana HOSA - Health Occupations Students of America. Getting younger people interested in the medical profession is the program's main goal.

Robertson, who accompanied the group at CFVH, said that during this school year, more than 500 high school students in western Montana will participate in the REACH program at seven different facilities. This is only the second time the REACH program has come to Plains, although the hospital has done similar visits for high school students over the last five years.

"REACH is an incredible opportunity for students to learn about and consider healthcare career pathways which exist in Montana," said Robertson, who was impressed with the hospital staff's dedication to the program.

"Students, especially rural Montana students, have a misconception that postsecondary education is remote, lengthy and beyond their means. The CFVH staff took time to explain that a vast majority of the degrees and certifications in the healthcare field require a two-year associate's degree and are available at our western Montana community colleges. Students left the hospital with a desire to examine more possibilities," said Robertson.

The students last week ranged from eighth-graders to seniors from Plains, Thompson Falls, Noxon and Hot Springs. The students rotated in groups of 8 - 10 to the clinic, emergency room, obstetrics, respiratory therapy, Imaging and the lab. Numerous staff members from the hospital took time from their daily work to brief the students on numerous different aspects of the medical profession. Many of the stations had hands-on activities for the students.

Tonya Revier, the hospital's marketing and community relations coordinator, said the favorite stations seemed to be Makes chicken suturing and the emergency room, where EMTs John Meckler and John Sheridan of the Plains Ambulance Service delivered the training dummy "Fred" to the ER. Registered Nurse, Shelby Zenahlik, clinical coordinator, and TaLoni DuBois, Cardiopulmonary Services Manager instructed the students to the proper IV insertion and how to get a patient breathing again.

In OB, students watched a live ultrasound from an expectant mother. "they learned about the baby's heartbeat and what is done to monitor mom and baby pre-delivery and during labor," added Revier.

Students had the chance to do a CT (computed tomography) scan on a chicken and were shown how to analyze ultrasound images. In the lab, the students were given a lesson on blood types.

Respiratory Therapist Polly Cavill presented information about respiratory therapy and heart and lung diseases and the hospital's new Pulmonary Rehab Program. Cavill said they also talked about the dangers of smoking and the irreversible effects smoking has on a person's lungs.

Robertson believed the CFVH staff has a genuine interest in the future of the youth in the Sanders County community, which she said was evident in the staff's preparation and the interaction between the staff and the students.

Revier said, "Some students always think of healthcare as being a doctor or nurse, so opening their eyes to a number of fields gives them a more realistic idea of a healthcare team and a variety of career paths that they might not otherwise think about until they get into school." Another goal was to talk about training and requirements specific to each field so the kids knew what their potential next steps may be if they wanted to pursue one of the demonstrated career fields.

"REACH is an incredible educational opportunity for our county's high school students," said Rusty Kinkade, manager of Home Health and Hospice. "Additionally, it gives the employees of CFVH an opportunity to reach out to the population in our service area to highlight the outstanding patient care that we provide," he added.

"We want to encourage the next generation of youth to choose fulfilling careers in the high skill, high demand, and high pay healthcare industry," said Robertson.

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