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Organizers hope fun camp will entice young people to enter health care fields

NMMC helping students explore health care career options

TUPELO — Remember when you were young playing “doctor” and “nurse” with make believe stethoscopes or — if you were really lucky — a nifty play medical kit?

This summer middle school students will get a chance to play doctor and nurse at a Summer Health Academy sponsored by the North Mississippi Medical Center (NMMC). Only a lot more than fun and games is at stake.

A shortage of nurses in Mississippi is looming, one that is expected to reach critical stages in 2010. The hope behind offering the Health Academy is that being introduced to a career in nursing or another health care field at such an impressionable age could result in some of these students choosing to become nurses.

“By the year 2010, experts are predicting the nursing shortage to be at its peak,” said Patti McCue, NMMC vice president for nursing. “Other health care professions will also continue to experience vacancies. The Summer Health Academy is one strategy we’re using to help promote an adequate supply of caregivers in our community in the years to come. We think the academy is going to be a unique opportunity, and that we will reap long-term benefits from doing this. I feel eight years from now we will have a nurse come to work here and say, ‘Eight years ago I went through your Summer Health Academy.’”

The NMMC Health Academy is patterned after similar successful programs elsewhere. Betty R. Dickson, executive director, Mississippi Nurses Association (MNA), said exposing kids early to health careers could do a lot to address the shortages that are a nationwide concern.

“I think a lot of young people don’t choose nursing because they don’t know that much about it,” Dickson said. “If we can get them into the health care settings so they can see the excitement and how vast the opportunities are, then I think you will begin to see more young people making decisions to go into nursing.”

MNA has given a grant to the Mississippi Office of Nursing Workforce to provide nursing recruiting films to be distributed in the state. Both MNA and Office of Nursing Work Force are holding meetings with committees across the state to look at recruitment, retention and education of nurses.

Middle school students are being selected as the age group targeted for the Summer Health Academy program because research has shown that is the age when the most success is possible influencing career choices. Once students go beyond the eighth grade, it is more difficult to influence career choices.

A number of factors are behind the emerging shortage of nurses, McCue said. With an aging baby boom population, the demand for nurses has increased dramatically. More nurses are needed in long-term care facilities, and the home health field has also grown significantly in the past five years.

“So the bottom line is there is more demand, and supply has not been able to keep up with demand,” McCue said. “One reason the supply of nurses may have dropped off is that in the early and middle 1990s when managed care was introduced, a number of hospitals really scaled back on nursing positions in order to control costs. So there began to be a fair amount of concern, rightfully so, about nursing job security.”

Another factor has been nurses’ salaries. But McCue said salaries are now a lot more competitive than in the past, and are on par with many jobs in business, banking and other professions.

Being a predominantly female profession has also meant that few males in the past chose the profession. However, that is changing. More men are entering the profession in part because salaries are now more attractive.

The Summer Health Academy planned June 3-7 is open to students who are selected on the basis of academic achievement, community service and desire to enter a health profession. The academy will introduce students to various careers in health care while reinforcing positive lifestyle choices. Participants will spend four hours each day with nurses and other health care professionals.

Besides touring nursing units at NMMC, as well as the NMMC Cancer Center and Wellness Center, students will also learn basic first aid and rescue breathing from qualified instructors. Because enrollment is limited, students will be able to interact one-on-one with nurses, physicians, radiology technologists, pharmacists, physical therapists and other health care staff.

This summer NMMC will also host a Physician Shadowing Program, June 17-July 12, for college students who aspire to a career in medicine.

“Students will spend part of their summer doing one-week rotations with physicians in various specialties,” said Rosalyn Campbell, NMMC employment counselor. “The experience is designed to better prepare the students to enter medical school.”

Participants are required to have completed their third year of college in pursuit of a medical career. They will spend time with family physicians, surgeons, radiologists, cardiologists and emergency physicians.

“It’s one thing to do pre-med studies, but students don’t see why they do what they do,” said Dr. Jim Boyd, a radiologist with Radiology of North Mississippi and chairman of NMMC’s medical staff. “A program like this helps students understand what physicians do, how they do it and why. It motivates them to continue on with their pre-med studies.”

Dr. Boyd says the mentoring program also can help point students in a particular direction.

“Medicine is such a broad field now, and each specialty area is unique,” he said. “This experience helps students determine where their interests lie so they can begin to focus on what they’d like to pursue.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.

About Becky Gillette

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