Heritage College health careers summer camp gets bigger, more diverse

Jul 18, 2016

Students from central Ohio high schools take part in OU+REACH. (DUBLIN, Ohio) Though only in its second year, an Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine health careers summer camp is expanding, attracting a broader range of high school students and honing its approach.

The Heritage College, Dublin, launched OU+REACH (Re-imagining Educational Approaches to Careers in Healthcare) as a pilot in January 2015 with 18 high school students from Dublin City Schools’ Biomedical STEM Academy. The latest camp, June 14-16, was more than twice as big, drawing nearly 40 participants from 11 schools in six Franklin and Union County districts.

Jointly planned and hosted by the Dublin-based Heritage College and Physician Assistants Program of the College of Health Sciences and Professions, This year’s camp attracted 11 th and 12 th graders from Central Ohio high schools in suburban (Dublin,  Hilliard, Olentangy); urban (Columbus Public and Columbus Catholic); and rural (Marysville and Fairbanks) school districts. Camp organizers also tried to attract students who hadn’t yet locked in plans for a health care career.

“It’s continually an aspiration of ours to try and reach more of those kids,” said Blythe Jonas, Heritage College assistant director of medical career and professional development. “And we got a good mix this year. We had some who definitely knew they wanted to be doctors. But then we got a few who weren’t sure.”

Participant responses to a post-event survey, she added, suggest the three-day experience helped boost students’ belief that they could succeed in the field. “We got comments from students who were really interested in a medical career but thought they couldn’t do it, because they weren’t sure about some of the clinical skills or anatomy,” she said. “And then after having that hands-on experience, many reported a boost in self-confidence and reenergized focus.”

At the same time as OU+REACH, and also on the Dublin campus, the College of Health Sciences and Professions ran its own two-day Health Careers Summer Camp, which offered an “Introduction to Health Careers” for area high school freshman and sophomores, and an exercise in “Solving the Patient Case” for juniors and seniors. Students from OU+REACH and the CHSP camp took part in some shared activities, focused on how to prepare academically for a health care career, and how to choose and apply to a school.

The OU+REACH camp offers hands-on, case-based learning activities, which include diagnosing “Sarah,” a simulated patient played by a Heritage College medical student volunteer. Like last year, students who took part in the camp generally gave it high marks, particularly visits to the anatomy lab.  

“I learned a lot of new things that I didn’t know before,” said Jade Dusch, an 11 th grader from Marysville Early College High School. “And just hearing the different stories of the physicians helps me realize that this is actually something that I want to do. … Ever since I was little, I have always wanted to be a doctor and help people in that way. But coming to this camp definitely made it more clear to me that this is what I want to do.”

Hazel Antao, a 12 th grader from St. Francis De Sales High School in Columbus, said she also has long wanted to be a physician, and the insight gleaned from her participation in the OU+REACH program helped her focus her plans.

“This camp played a role in my decision of picking a career in emergency medicine,” she said. “It was the first time I had an exposure to the way doctors analyze their patients’ concerns and diagnose them. The entire process showed me how much work must be put in to look at a patient from all angles. Also, I remember coming home feeling so happy that I had finally seen my first cadaver; that was a defining moment for me.”

The camp also lets medical students mentor their future peers.

Prathayini Subarajan, who recently finished her first year at the Heritage College, Dublin, played “Sarah.” The role was a natural extension of her mentoring activities, which include teaching for AmeriCorps in a high-poverty Ohio school district. She said a program like OU+REACH would have been a boon in her own pre-college days.

“When I was in high school, I never had any opportunities to go to a program like this,” she said. “So when I saw these kids get really excited, I was so glad we are able to provide these early immersive experiences because it’s not something that’s always readily available. Sure, you have honors and AP science classes, but it’s nothing like actually picking up a blood pressure cuff and trying it on your friend.”

Mike Messina, another rising second-year medical student, helped plan the camp and took part in the activities. In the “Sarah” case, he said, “I was playing the doctor, interviewing the patient while occasionally stepping out of character and engaging the students to get them to think about what questions they wanted to ask about the history of the present illness or things to assess in the physical exam. … I really like to share my passion for medicine with other students, so this is definitely something I enjoy a lot.”

Both Messina and Subarajan said watching students’ faces light up while they held a human heart or learned to draw blood was priceless.

Parents and teachers were invited to the camp’s closing activities. “One dad came up to me at the camp’s conclusion to share an unanticipated benefit,” Subarajan recalled. “‘You know,’ he said, ‘my daughter and I don’t often talk about meaningful things. But on Tuesday after your camp she called me at work, and we talked for nearly an hour straight, all about what she had done!’”

Reflecting on the Dublin-based program that he has helped shepherd, Tim Cain, Ph.D., Heritage College associate professor of biomedical sciences, noted that, “Those of us who contribute our time and experience all walk away re-energized ourselves by the interactions with this engaged community of learners – both high schoolers and medical students.”

Looking to the future, Cain and colleagues plan invite the high schoolers back to campus for additional enrichment during the upcoming school year and enhance the inter-professional activities of OU+REACH to model the ever-growing, team-based nature of modern health care.  “Ultimately, I would like for us to re-imagine and explore innovative and meaningful ways to connect learners across the continuum -- learners that will reshape the next generation of health care.” he said.