Health care contest draws hundreds of students to Pentagon

More than 750 aspiring health care workers from across South Dakota gathered.

South Dakota HOSA-Future Health Professionals gather at the Sanford Pentagon
South Dakota HOSA-Future Health Professionals gather at the Sanford Pentagon

More than 750 high school students from across South Dakota gathered to compete at the Sanford Sports Complex in Sioux Falls last week — but not for a sporting event.

Students came to the state conference of HOSA-Future Health Professionals at the Sanford Pentagon on March 28-29 to test their knowledge or skills in more than 55 events, such as home health aide, medical spelling, CPR/first aid, medical assisting, healthy lifestyles and more.

About HOSA

South Dakota HOSA was established in 2012 as an initiative of the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine and the South Dakota Area Health Education Center. It has 32 chapters across the state, typically for students in grades 9-12, with more being added annually. The largest chapter, in Harrisburg, has 115 students; the smallest chapter, in Hoven, has nine students. This year, South Dakota topped 1,000 total members. HOSA, founded in 1976, originally was called Health Occupation Students of America.

Brock Rops, education coordinator for South Dakota Area Health Education Center, is the state advisor and co-founder of South Dakota HOSA. “There are a lot of kids who want to go into health care,” he said. It’s the second-most common “career cluster” identified in aptitude tests for high schoolers, he added, and the No. 1 career cluster for about a fifth of students.

HOSA chapters give like-minded students a chance to learn more about the wide variety of options for health careers and develop some skills that would benefit them in a career. They meet monthly, under the guidance of an advisor and a slate of officers, to learn about health care-related topics from speakers. They also practice competitive skills. For example, they may practice CPR and other emergency response measures, or they may learn how to best talk with patients — making eye contact and choosing the right tone. “Students can get that engaged, if they wish,” Rops said.

At the state conference

Students come ready to compete at the state conference in individual and team events in a wide variety of health care-related events ranging from emergency preparedness to leadership public speaking to photography to medical innovation. Some events are project- or presentation-based before a judge; others are demonstrations of skills, such as two students competing in their response to an emergency scenario.

It takes a lot of people to coordinate the dozens of competitive events, plus 16 academic sessions, held during the conference. Rops said 200 volunteers helped out this year, among them health care professionals, University of South Dakota and University of Sioux Falls nursing students and Southeast Technical Institute students and faculty.

Other career-oriented student groups, such as FFA, existed before South Dakota HOSA began, but “we didn’t have anything that encouraged these students to pursue that kind of career,” Rops said. “We thought there was a need for that.”

The growth of chapters since 2012 has demonstrated that point. “Going into it, I figured it would be quite popular,” Rops said. “I didn’t think it would grow this fast.”

However, adding to the overall number of students isn’t necessarily Rops’ priority. “I’m more into the quality of the member,” he said. Regardless of size, he wants to see chapters where all of the students are engaged and active members. “At the end of the day, I just want to help students who are dedicated.”

Career-oriented students benefit from HOSA’s education and experience and confidence-building. But potential employers benefit, too. “We’re building a better candidate,” Rops said — for health education programs and employers.

Sanford Health is one of the financial supporters of the South Dakota HOSA and considers it a workforce development pipeline.

South Dakota HOSA chapters

Membership dues for students are $20 per year, and chapters meet monthly. To find out more about starting a South Dakota HOSA chapter at your school, contact Rops at The minimum requirement is five interested students and an advisor.

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