Leslie Espinoza attempts to navigate a course while wearing goggles simulation alcohol intoxication during the psychology specialization during the final day of the first Brenau Medical Scholars Program at Brenau University East Campus on Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Gainesville, Ga. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Medical Scholars Start Young

Hands-on experience is essential for undergrad and graduate health science students, but giving high schoolers an early taste can set courses to dreams they’ve never dreamed.

TJ Wolcott puts a splint on Ansley Rochester's hand while working in the occupational therapy specialization during the final day of the first Brenau Medical Scholars Program at Brenau University East Campus on Wednesday, April 13, 2106, in Gainesville, Ga. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)
TJ Wolcott puts a splint on Ansley Rochester’s hand while working in the occupational therapy specialization during the final day of the first Brenau Medical Scholars Program at Brenau University East Campus on Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Gainesville, Ga. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

The Brenau College of Health Sciences this spring worked with northeast Georgia organizations that participate in development and sustainability of health care services to launch a new program to introduce high school students to possible careers in the region. Called Medical Scholars, the program gave rising juniors from nine high schools opportunities to “kick the tires” on possibilities for university level studies and rewarding careers in health care professions. Handpicked by a planning committee that oversaw a rigorous application process, the 28 students spent four full days at Brenau – one day a month – with faculty, university students and professionals in nursing, occupational therapy, physical therapy, pre-professional careers and psychology.

Scholars took a full dose of experience with psychology experiments that simulated dementia, physical therapy strength and manual muscle-testing drills, wearing scrubs and practicing suturing techniques, hands-on work with human patient simulators suffering a variety of ailments and even a supervised visit to the college’s anatomy lab with real humans. “Some students have a very narrow view of what health care is,” says Health Sciences Dean Gale Starich. “They think it’s only being a physician or a nurse, and of course, the breadth of health care careers is enormous.”

Brenau participates in the program with the education wing of the local Chamber of Commerce in Gainesville, as well as the federal, state and local government-funded Foothills Area Health Education Center, which partners with communities to recruit, train and retain health care professionals in the northeast Georgia region. Chamber Education Vice President Dana Miller, WC ’85, said the anticipated 38 percent growth rate in health care industries before 2020 exacerbates the already critical across-the-board shortage of health care professionals. Hospitals and medical practices need help from the education system, at every level, to recruit more health care professionals. Hands-on experience is essential for undergrad and graduate health science students, but giving high schoolers an early taste can set courses to dreams they’ve never dreamed.

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