Mercyhurst reaches out to minorities to inspire interest in health careers

Donning scrubs and stethoscopes, 22 culturally diverse teens will host a health fair Friday, July 30, to demonstrate the skills they learned this summer during Mercyhurst North East’s (MNE) innovative Health Career Explorers Camp.

The health fair, scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. in the Michele and Tom Ridge Health and Safety Building on the North East campus, will feature an assortment of booths and presentations on healthy living along with blood pressure screenings. The students have invited their families and friends, with upward of 100 people expected, including representatives of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, which funds the camps through the local Northwest Pennsylvania Workforce Investment Board (NWPA WIB).

Now in its fourth year, the summer camp series – one week for middle school students, one for high school students, and one for returning camp participants who stage the annual health fair – has reached 250 minority students, providing them with hands-on experience in nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, medical lab technology, respiratory therapy and emergency medical response training. The campers work on human patient simulators, visit hospitals, and conduct medical histories of residents at Parkside Retirement Community in North East. The students often leave with an aspiring interest in a health occupation, which is the overarching goal of the program.

Research shows that reaching students in middle school and early high school creates a commanding learning experience that can be a life-changer. “Young people, and especially minority children, aren’t aware of all the marvelous career opportunities in health care. Our camps give them an experience where they can actually see themselves being a nurse, a paramedic or a medical lab technologist. And that’s pretty powerful,” said Dr. Linda Rhodes, director of Mercyhurst’s Hirtzel Institute on Health Education and Aging, who has spearheaded the development of the camps.

Rhodes said this fall the institute will begin a study to determine how many of its campers have gone on to pursue health careers after high school. One such student, Corey Dantay Johnson, a 2010 graduate of Strong Vincent High School who wasn’t sure what he wanted to do after graduation, has earned a four-year college scholarship to study physical therapy. He credits the Mercyhurst program for piquing his interest and prompting his decision.

Each graduate of the camp receives a $2,000 scholarship toward any MNE program once they graduate from high school. Throughout the academic year students may also attend MNE-sponsored “Health Career Retreats,” which offer activities to help them with their studies in high school and nurture their interest in health care careers.

“Healthcare will be one of the most in-demand occupations in our region over the next three to five years," said Michele Zieziula, CEO, Regional Center for Workforce Excellence & Northwest PA Workforce Investment Board. "It's why we proudly support this effort to help prepare our youth to enter the workforce in these careers.”

On hand at the event will be Rhodes, camp directors Elaine Stanton and Michelle Lukasiak, and Marion Monahan, chair of the Division of Nursing and Allied Health at MNE.
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