Conference inspires youth to pursue health careers
Trey scrubs his hands and forearms vigorously, carefully dries and puts on his gown, gloves, mask and surgical cap before entering the operating room. A patient lies under the sheet, anesthetized and prepped for his gall bladder procedure. Everything is in order, ready for surgery.
Trey cracks a smile under his mask as a classmate giggles. The atmosphere in this O.R. is much more lighthearted than most. That’s because the patient is not alive, or even human – it’s a simulated human midsection surrounded by state-of-the-art teaching equipment. And Trey is not a surgeon; he’s a high school student from Incarnate Word Academy in Corpus Christi who is learning about what it takes to become a surgical technologist.
Hundreds of high school students from around the Coastal Bend got to experience this scenario and many more like it at the 13th Annual Future Health Professionals Conference hosted by the Texas A&M Health Science Center Coastal Bend Health Education Center (CBHEC). The event was held on the Del Mar College West campus this year and showcased degree programs in surgical technology, nursing, respiratory therapy, pharmacy, radiology, sonography, nuclear medicine, medical laboratory science, emergency medical services, dental hygiene and dietetics. Throughout the day, students participated in hands-on activities with simulation equipment and interacted with educators of the programs and current health science students.
“Teenagers can read about these professions on the Internet or hear about them from their teachers, but it’s something else to actually see what these professions entail and get to work with the training equipment in a real college environment. It’s much more engaging and exciting this way,” said Becky Smith, health careers program coordinator at CBHEC and coordinator of the event.
The Health Careers program aims to spark area youth’s interests in health careers, especially career paths that are in high demand in South Texas and across the state. By educating young people about these career paths and getting them interested early, the program positions them to achieve their career goals and also helps to address a growing problem in the South Texas area. An overwhelming number of counties spanning the region have been identified as Health Professional Shortage Areas by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, meaning that more health professionals are needed in the region, from primary care doctors to dentists, pharmacists and medical technicians.
The annual Future Health Professionals Conference has introduced thousands of teens in the area to a variety of health careers since it began in 2001. This year, nearly 300 students from middle and high schools in Corpus Christi, Bishop, Kingsville, Rockport, Taft and Portland attended.
“It’s been an awesome experience,” said Gasper D’Anna, a senior at Incarnate Word Academy. “I had no idea about some of these degrees until today, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot about the different aspects of health. And I’m only 30 minutes into it!”
Gasper’s sights are set on a career in kinesiology; perhaps after attending this event, he will go on to develop an orthopedic device to restore mobility in the paralyzed. And it may have been a simulation this time, but Trey just might be seen a few years down the road in a hospital O.R. performing life-saving surgery on a fellow South Texan.
“We’ve seen some of the past attendees go on to earn their degrees and become health professionals,” said Cheryl Bullen, health education coordinator at CBHEC. “Some students have come in thinking they want to get a degree in one field, but then change their mind after seeing what, say, a medical laboratory scientist does and deciding they prefer that. We just hope this event helps them decide what kind of career they might enjoy and inspires them to pursue their dreams.”