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Health Camp gives students chance to see career up close

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By John Barnhart

    A group of 15 girls spent last week learning what medical professionals do at Bedford Memorial Hospital’s annual Health Camp. They even got the chance to operate.

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    The camp is designed for youth from 11 through 17. They spend a week at the hospital and are issued photo ID tags identical to the ones that hospital employees wear. All of the youth are interested in careers in health care, although one participant has a different kind of patient in mind.
    “I actually want to become a veterinarian,” commented Alainey Short, who will enter 9th grade at Liberty Christian Academy in the fall.
    She likes animals.
    “I have three cats, two dogs and five chickens,” she said.
    Thursday afternoon saw the girls in an operating room. The camp makes use of    the   hospital’s   former maternity section which has a small operating room. The lesson was how to sew up a wound or incision. Cut up chicken from the supermarket served as a stand-in for patients.
    The girls began by scrubbing exactly like operating room personnel would, with a nurse instructing them. They had already donned caps, masks and special foot covers. Once they entered the operating room, they donned the rest of their surgical garb along with gloves.
    Each one had a suture kit, a suture and a piece of chicken that had been sliced to provide the wound that they had to sew up. Nurses instructed them how to do it and all the campers paid close attention.
    Other events involved various aspects of health and medical work. They learned how to start an IV and they got a presentation from a forensic nurse examiner. Kamera English, a rising 10th grader at Patrick Henry High School in Roanoke, is thinking about a career in forensic nursing.
    “It seems like it would be a difficult field of work, but rewarding,” she commented.
    On one day, a helicopter that serves as a flying ambulance paid the camp a visit and the girls got to meet the crew. Caitlin Sunde, who starts 8th grade at Bedford Middle School this fall, said she wants to be a paramedic or work in an emergency room.
    “I just wanted to view different options in the medical field,” she said, explaining why she wanted to attend the camp. “I like surgery the most.”
    “I would like to be a doctor,” said Allena Lowe, a rising 5th grader at Forest Elementary School. “A doctor who doesn’t deal with blood or shots.”
    She may be able to deal with this better as time goes on. One of the general health features of the camp is that each child got a basic health screening which included a blood/sugar test. The yall had to prick their own fingers to get the blood and Anita Lowe, Allena’s mother, said that her daughter did fine on a procedure that involved blood. Anita Lowe, the hospital’s community service adviser, served as the camp’s director.
    There are some medical careers where she could avoid blood or giving shots. Each student got a copy of “Virginia Health Careers 2012-2015.” This book lists the full range of medical careers and how teens can prepare themselves to enter each one, including advice on what they need to do in high school.
    Allena attended the camp because she wants to be a doctor, and she thought the camp would be fun.
    Skye Grant, who will start 5th grade at Thaxton Elementary School in the fall, said that she attended the camp because her mother told her about it and how it would help her. Grant wants to be a doctor and has a specialty in mind.
    “I want to be a dermatologist when I grow up,” she said.
    Skye Grant’s mother is Dana Grant, the patient safety officer at the hospital.
    The adults enjoyed the camp too. Ellen Sloan, an operating room nurse, said the girls learned fast.
    “I have watched the girls change and watched them mature before my eyes,” commented Anita Lowe.
    Along with medical profession events, the girls also got healthy living instruction. This included being taught how to prepare healthy meals.
    The Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association provided a grant that paid for 50 percent of the camp’s cost.
    “I particularly thought that this group could answer questions very well,” commented Barbara Brown, who represented the Healthcare Association on a site visit.
    Brown said that the Healthcare Association is supporting 36 camps like this one across Virginia.
    “The camps are part of our workforce initiative,” she said.
    This initiative is concerned with maintaining a stable supply of high quality medical practitioners in the Commonwealth. Brown said the medical field is facing two challenges. One is that it will be losing medical professionals as baby boomers retire. The other is that, should President Obama’s healthcare legislation survive, Virginia will need medical professionals to take care of an additional 250,000 to 300,000 people.
    She liked what she saw in the operating room Thursday afternoon.
    “That sort of one-on-one is what sells young people on healthcare,” she said.
    She noticed that the girls approached these activities in a professional way.
    “They modeled the behavior they saw demonstrated for them,” she said.
    This was Bedford Memorial’s fourth healthcare camp and Brown thinks the program has expanded nicely. She also noted that the hospital provides a wonderful site for the camp because it has space for outdoor activities.
    Brown said that middle school is the best starting point for healthcare camps. She said that this is the point at which students start thinking about a career.