Find Your Future in Healthcare Program Introduces Teens to Health Careers

By Chris Carmody

The March 6 event focused on students in grades 10-12 who have expressed an interest in health professions, giving them an opportunity to learn more about these careers through presentations and hands-on activities. Jesse Cargill, education coordinator for the UAMS North Central Regional Campus in Batesville, told the students that UAMS is committed to helping them on their academic journey.

“We’ll stay with you and work with you through your high school and undergraduate years,” he said, adding that education coordinators at UAMS’ eight regional campuses provide support in areas such as academic counseling and interview training. 

Employees from Christus St. Michael Hospital in Texarkana led off the event with a presentation about their work in physical, occupational and speech therapy. They talked about their own experiences and outlined the courses that students can take if they’re interested in those careers.

“There’s a need out there for professionals in all these areas of therapy,” said Russ Nelson, DPT, a physical therapist at Christus St. Michael.

Chance Gee, MPAS, assistant professor of Physician Assistant Studies in the UAMS College of Health Professions, talked about the daily duties of physician assistants. These medical professionals diagnose illnesses, develop treatment plans and prescribe medications, working in collaboration with supervising physicians but often serving as patients’ principal care provider.

As of 2021, Arkansas’ rate of 19.4 physician assistants per 100,000 residents ranked among the lowest in the nation, and Gee highlighted the importance of alleviating this shortage.

“That’s where we need your help,” he said. “We need more students to train as physician assistants and practice medicine in Arkansas.”

Some of the speakers provided activities designed to improve the students’ understanding of health care specialties. Deziree Arnett, M.Ed., clinical coordinator and assistant professor in the UAMS College of Health Professions’ Division of Radiologic Imaging Sciences, showed students an image of an ankle and encouraged them to point out the location of a fracture. Arnett said the radiography field is constantly evolving, making it a good career for those who have an interest in technology.

Nicholas Hollowell, a third-year Doctor of Pharmacy student, gave a presentation about the UAMS College of Pharmacy. He described the role of pharmacists and led the students in an activity in which they filled prescriptions by labeling pill bottles and counting Smarties candies.

Kevin Phelan, Ph.D., professor in the UAMS College of Medicine’s Department of Neurobiology and Developmental Sciences, held a demonstration of ultrasound imaging. The technology is well-known for its use during pregnancies, but it’s an important tool in many other clinical settings, providing a noninvasive view of internal body structures such as organs, tendons and muscles.

“Ultrasound can provide a lot of information to clinicians,” he said.

Later in the day, Phelan led the students through a cardiology session in which they conducted dissections of sheep hearts. The teens learned about many of the anatomical features of the heart as well as their functions.

The event also featured a segment with Nathan O’Fallon, project director and mobile unit coordinator for the Arkansas Rural Health Partnership. O’Fallon encouraged teachers to schedule a visit from the Health Careers Workforce Mobile Unit, a traveling medical education facility that’s part of a UAMS-led effort to give students more opportunities to learn about health careers.

UAMS Regional Campuses operates the Find Your Future in Healthcare program in collaboration with the state Department of Education and Arkansas HOSA, an international organization for future health professionals. UAMS provided the participating schools with supply kits for the activities conducted during the virtual camp.

The camp included students from Augusta High School, Brookland High, Greenwood High, Hamburg High, Hoxie High, Lake Hamilton High, Newport High, Northwest Technical Institute in Springdale, Russellville High, Sheridan High, Star City High, Trumann High and Warren High.

Cargill highlighted the growth of the program, which started in 2021 as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of in-person events. He said 14 schools were unable to attend the March 6 session because of state testing, but they plan to participate in a recorded version at a later date. UAMS also plans to hold a fall session of the camp, featuring a new set of health careers.

“We’ve heard positive feedback from teachers who let us know how much they and their students enjoy this camp,” he said. “We’re grateful for the opportunity to invest in these students and show the career paths that are available to them.”