Sanford MedX gives teens close look at hospital roles

Program introduces the wide variety of jobs available in health care field

High school students suit up in PPE to watch a simulated surgery, while medical personnel explain their roles during a Sanford MedX class

Colleges, career fields — high schoolers have plenty of possibilities to ponder.

But they may not realize just how many career options they have. It can be a real benefit, then, to spend time exploring a workplace and meeting the variety of people employed there.

Sanford Health aims to help students interested in health care as a career choose the right role for them. Even in the traditional doctor and nurse occupations, students will find specialties ranging from allergists to urologists, and from oncology to flight nursing.

And the list of other roles keeps growing, too, from lab scientists to athletic trainers.

In the Sanford MedX program, kids turn into “medical explorers,” watching and even experiencing the roles in action.

Learn more: Information about student programs at Sanford Health

As Bismarck, North Dakota, debuted Sanford MedX in March, students watched for two weeks as a teen car crash victim made her way from helicopter arrival to surgery. Fortunately, it was just a simulation — the “victim” was a volunteer with mock injuries.

Workers in demand

Job opportunities definitely exist in the health care field. In the decade between 2018 and 2028, health care employment was expected to increase by 14%, compared to an overall job growth of 5.2%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means adding 1.9 million new health care jobs. And health-care-related occupations are expected to account for 18 out of 30 of the fastest-growing jobs during that decade. Retirement of current workers, an aging population and chronic illnesses all help drive that trend.

While the coronavirus pandemic has affected job openings for at least the short term, Sanford Health still has opportunities available in the Upper Midwest. In a recent look, Sanford Health in Fargo, North Dakota, listed 200 openings, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, had 172. Bismarck had 112, and Bemidji, Minnesota, had 101.

Interest in the health care field tends to be pretty high, according to student surveys. For example, about 20% of eighth-grade students in the state of North Dakota rank the health care cluster as their top career cluster, said Linae Bieber, who works as a career development consultant for Sanford Health in the Leadership, Education and Development (LEAD) Department in Bismarck.

“It’s really important that we, as school programs and industries, develop programs to keep students engaged within that primary area of interest,” Bieber said.

After all, today’s student is tomorrow’s OB/GYN, or home health nurse, or phlebotomist, or physical therapist, or child life specialist, or anesthesiologist, or …

“We want to give them the broadest possible stroke. And when we do that in health care, we see that we have jobs that are all through the spectrum and inspiring people to want to be part of an industry where we’re helping people,” Bieber said.

Evolution from Boy Scout program

The Sanford MedX program in Sioux Falls and Fargo originated in a partnership with the Boy Scouts. The Scouts’ Exploring program, decades ago, started offering special-interest “posts” organized by business organizations for older youths to spotlight career fields. Girls eventually were invited to join as well. The health-care-oriented program has worn several names through the years. But Sanford MedX is the most recent change, from Sanford Youth Medical Explorers.

The Fargo program offers high school juniors and seniors an in-depth look at a variety of roles in the hospital setting once a week for a semester that includes 11 or 12 evening meetings. At each meeting, students have either a tour or a hands-on activity. Fargo recently began a Sanford MedX program for college upperclassmen as well that runs eight nights.

For rural students from as far as northern Minnesota, northern South Dakota and western North Dakota, Fargo also offers Hope Camp. The summer session typically offers high school students three full days of health care experiences. They stay in the dorms at North Dakota State University and do science- and health-related activities during the day there and elsewhere in Fargo. Then they attend sessions at Sanford Medical Center Fargo during the evenings. However, because of the pandemic, there will be no camp this summer.

The Sioux Falls Sanford MedX program introduces high school and college students to roles at Sanford USD Medical Center one evening a month during the academic year, or typically three consecutive afternoons during the summer.

Bemidji, Minn., has just started a MedX program as well, through a partnership among Sanford Health Bemidji, Boy Scouts of America and Bemidji High School. It will run one evening a month during the academic year.

The new Bismarck program for high schoolers will run on a semester schedule similar to Fargo’s starting in the fall. But to kick things off early with a shorter session in March, which was planned for four weeks, Bieber decided to tap the strengths of Bismarck’s simulation manager, Deb Grabow.

Following path of car accident ‘victim’

The first night of the kickoff, the “patient” was flown to Sanford Medical Center-Bismarck by helicopter. The watching high school juniors and seniors and parents then met the helicopter pilot, air paramedic, flight nurse and security officer.

“The scenario is that she will have been texting and driving and got into a wreck,” Bieber said. She’s also a star volleyball player. In reality, the patient was Grabow’s daughter, a student herself who is interested in a health care career.

The second night showed the patient getting evaluated in the emergency department and having emergency surgery for a broken pelvis — on a mannequin. Students met with radiology workers and surgical team members, including the surgeon, nurse anesthetist, surgery nurse and surgical technologists.

The second night ended up being the final night of the program as pandemic measures took effect at the hospital.

However, on the third night, students would have seen the patient staying in the intensive care unit (ICU) before moving to a hospital room. They would have met up with respiratory care, neurology staff and nurses in the ICU. In the hospital room, they would have seen a nursing assistant, medical-surgical nurse, dietitian and pharmacist.

Then, on the fourth night, students would have watched the patient undergoing therapies. She would have learned how to eat, walk and dress herself again, and try to get back to playing volleyball. So students would have met therapists and an athletic trainer, too.

In the MedX program, patient privacy remains protected with the use of a simulated patient, as opposed to job shadowing, for example. “This is our way of giving (students) a robust experience that gives them a glimpse into what we actually do,” Bieber said.

She envisions incorporating a simulation series like this into Bismarck’s semester-long Sanford MedX sessions.

What it means for students

Susie Munyer has been leading Sanford MedX in Fargo for 13 years. The senior career development consultant for the LEAD Department loves watching teens discover new career options.

“High school students are what give me a spark every day,” she said. “They make me want to come to work.”

When she meets them, some students immediately tell her they plan to be a nurse or a doctor. “I always let them know, my job is to change your mind … to expose you to all the things that there are in health care that you don’t know about yet,” Munyer said.

At the end of the program, some students hold firm to their original plan, but some do not. “I’ve had students who thought they were going to go into nursing and then discovered that respiratory care is where they really wanted to be,” she said.

And then there was the student whose parents were doctors and planned to become one, too. After he went through the Sanford MedX program, though, he told Munyer he decided he wanted to be an engineer. He wanted to design tools for doctors that could help patients. Then Munyer saw him return as a master’s student, working on a project at Sanford Health with his mom, designing tools for use with oncology patients.

Munyer enjoys seeing other students she met as high schoolers return as medical students or residents, too.

She recognizes the time commitment the program requires for high school students. “But hopefully it helps them decide, if not exactly what they want to do, what they don’t want to do,” she said. “Because that’s just as important to find out.”

Volunteers as inspiring examples

Bieber and Munyer both appreciate the enthusiasm that Sanford Health workers have for helping students.

“I’m so grateful for all the volunteers from Sanford, cause everybody who puts on a session for us, most of them are volunteering after they’ve done their work for the day. They come back, or they stay late, and they do this for the kids,” Munyer said.

They may be demonstrating skills for students who, one day, may work alongside them.

Bieber hopes students make a personal connection with the volunteers as well.

“It’s not the doctor with the coat on or the CRNA or the nurse. It’s Melissa who is the surgical nurse, and who she is as a person, and why she made these decisions, what she loves about her job,” Bieber said.

“When people are able to make that connection with an individual, it’s much more compelling, and it connects with their own goals. So I’m hoping that along the way, they’ll have that inspiration: ‘This person is like me. This person was able to do it. I think I can do it, too.’”

Munyer said speakers are happy to talk with students individually about their careers, schooling and class choices as well.

Ultimately, Sanford Health’s outreach education efforts, which extend well beyond Sanford MedX into elementary schools, aim to reveal that there’s a lot more to health care work than what students might see during an annual checkup.

“We are trying to show them what a health care system looks like,” Munyer said, “and how everyone works together as a team for the best results for the patient.”

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Posted In Bemidji, Bismarck, Community, Faces of Sanford Health, Fargo, People & Culture, Sioux Falls

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