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Teens explore variety of healthcare roles at Wingate’s Summer Health Academy

by Luanne Williams

A growing number of high school students are eyeing careers in healthcare, as well they should – the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 16 percent growth in the field between 2020 and 2030. That means 2.6 million new jobs with better-than-average salaries and benefits.

But teens rarely have a grasp of exactly which healthcare role they might be suited for or what they should be doing to prepare.

Helping them explore a variety of health science professions was the goal of Wingate University’s weeklong Summer Health Academy, which wrapped up earlier today. Sponsored by Novant Health and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, the day camp, now in its second year, gave 25 local students in grades 9 through 12 a chance to try their hands at compounding medications, diagnosing illnesses with ultrasound technology, taking heart-rates and blood pressure, and more.

Careers represented during the week included physical therapist, occupational therapist, physician assistant, pharmacist, nurse and emergency medical technician. Participants also explored jobs in public health and exercise science and took a three-hour CPR course for certification. Their participation in an Introduction to Health Professions course earned them a credit hour that they may be able to apply as an elective credit when they enter college.

Blindfolded student touches mask

Dr. Karen Friel, director of Wingate’s Department of Physical Therapy, headed up the camp, which she describes as “a cost-effective way for students to be exposed to a myriad of healthcare professions.”

“The goal is always to reach students who have limited exposure to knowing what career options might be available to them and get them excited about their health-career futures,” Friel says.

Ilena Torosian, a rising senior at Sun Valley High School in Monroe, certainly felt motivated to explore different career options after attending the camp. She came in thinking she wanted to be a pediatrician, like her uncle, but pretty soon she was entertaining other ideas.

“It was so amazing seeing all the things I can do,” she says. “I know I’m sticking to pediatrics, but I don’t know what. Today we had the pharmacy session in the morning. It was so interesting. I can be creating medicine for little kids if I want to.”

Zion Harris, a rising junior at Mt. Zion Christian Academy in Durham, felt energized by the active nature of the sessions. An aspiring surgeon inspired by the life story of Ben Carson, Harris especially enjoyed seeing actual body parts in the human anatomy lab during the physical therapy portion of the camp.

“The camp has been beyond my expectations,” he says. “I thought we were going to be in a classroom, but it’s been hands-on. The cadaver lab was what really surprised me. We were able to see actual human cadavers. Seeing actual things that people use in the actual field is amazing.”

Teens laugh while holding a baby

Opening eyes was the goal of the week. Most teenagers are familiar with nursing, dentistry and pediatrics, but careers in fields such as physical therapy, occupational therapy and public health might seem foreign to them. The Summer Health Academy gave them a hands-on primer that will give them something to think about as they finish their high school careers.

“It is such a joy to share the great work we do here at Wingate University with the next generation of potential science and healthcare leaders,” says Dr. Suzie Wolf, director of Wingate’s Public Health program. “Hopefully, their time with us in the Department of Public Health will lead to a better appreciation for public health and its far-reaching impact on our lives. It is our hope that this experience might give them the inspiration to take the next step in pursuing their own dreams.”

The first year of the initiative resulted in a 95-percent approval rate in postcamp surveys, so organizers decided to follow the same model this year, but with some enhancements, thanks to having sponsors from the healthcare industry.

“The sponsorships allow us to offset some costs associated with the camp and potentially, next year, to provide some scholarships,” Friel says.

To wrap up the week, campers and their parents spent time with Wingate’s undergraduate admissions team to learn more about the college admissions process, financial aid and scholarship opportunities.

Torosian came away impressed with Wingate as a university. “I honestly never thought I’d like Wingate the way I do,” she says. “The people here are amazing, and they barely even know me. The communication is really good. They’re always here to help. It feels like a family, like they say.”

Health sciences camps like Wingate’s may be playing an increasingly important role in guiding teens toward healthcare careers since Covid-19 has not only sparked more interest in these types of jobs but also curtailed the number of job-shadowing opportunities once available to high school students.

According to a survey performed by EdWeek Research Center in January, 55 percent of teachers said they have seen more students express interest in health-care careers since the start of the pandemic, and nearly 40 percent of teachers reported they had made a bigger effort to encourage their students to enter the field.

Learn more about Wingate’s health sciences programs at wingate.edu.

June 24, 2022