'We support the students big time'
Sponsorships help the UND Center for Rural Health Scrubs Academy grow.
Since 2011, 512 students entering grades 7 through 9 have participated in the Rural Collaborative Opportunities for Occupational Learning in Health (R-COOL-Health) Scrubs Academy I. The Scrubs Academy I is a four-day/three-night camp that focuses on health careers and is held on the University of North Dakota (UND) campus. In the academy’s inaugural year, 38 middle school students from across North Dakota took part in the program. In 2019, the Scrubs Academy more than doubled its first-year attendance, hosting 84 students, the most in the program’s nine years.
The Scrubs Academy offers any North Dakota middle school student the opportunity to learn about a variety of health care professions in engaging, hands-on, and interactive classroom sessions. In addition, students get to experience what it is like to live and learn in a university environment.
Connor McCarty of Grand Forks and Walker Schmidt of Harvey were two of the North Dakota students in the first academy in 2011. At the time, McCarty wasn’t even thinking about a career in health. He just thought the camp sounded like a fun summertime activity. Schmidt, on the other hand, came to the camp looking to learn more about medicine with the goal of someday becoming a physician in a rural community.
Then and now: A young Connor McCarty at Scrubs Camp (left) and as a UND graduate (right)
Fast-forward eight years. McCarty graduated from UND in May 2019 with a bachelor of science degree in biology, and an emphasis in pre-medicine.
“My goal is to be accepted into medical school in the fall of 2020,” McCarty said. “I think Scrubs Academy had a major impact in planting the seed in what I chose for a major, as well as what I wanted to pursue for a career.”
Schmidt is in his senior year at UND and is in the process of applying to medical schools.
“That same goal of becoming a family doctor still lingers with me, in no small part to my formative experience at the Scrubs Academy,” Schmidt added.
The cost for students to attend the Scrubs Academy I is $275. Unfortunately for McCarty and Schmidt and their parents, no sponsorships were offered in 2011. However, for the past two years, many health care organizations throughout North Dakota have covered part of the cost for multiple students to attend the academy, or in some cases, paid the full cost of one or two students from their region to attend.
Kylie Nissen, senior program coordinator at the UND Center for Rural Health, has been involved with the R-COOL Health Scrubs program from the beginning. She says that even though North Dakota health care facilities may not see immediate results, they understand the value of the academy and are willing to invest in their youth.
“The funding these facilities provide for their local students shows the kids that their community is invested in them and the future of their area’s health care workforce,” Nissen said. “This is an enticement for the students to come back and practice in their hometown as a way to give back to the community that has already shown support for them.”
Nissen said that in 2018 and 2019 there were a number of North Dakota facilities that provided sponsorships for local students to attend the R-COOL-Health Scrubs Academy. They include Mountrail County Medical Center (MCMC) in Stanley, Towner County Medical Center in Cando, Lutheran Sunset Home in Grafton, Sanford Health Oakes Regional Clinics in Oakes, Valley City Barnes County Development Corporation in Valley City, First Care Health Center in Park River, Powers Lake Ambulance in Powers Lake, and Jamestown Regional Medical Center in Jamestown.
The Mountrail County Health Foundation is a strong advocate and supporter of the academy. In the past two years, the Foundation has provided sponsorships for 31 students. Steph Everett, Mountrail County Health Foundation director and CEO in training, says because there is a shortage of workers in the medical fields, it is important for rural health care organizations to “grow their own” providers.
“What better way to expose our youth to the medical profession than a hands-on, four-day camp on the University of North Dakota campus,” Everett said. “We started offering sponsorships to Stanley three years ago. This past year, we expanded the sponsorships to all five schools in our service area and were able to send 22 students to this amazing academy last summer.”
Additional health care facilities offer sponsorships for students from their areas, too. However, some did not receive any local applications. Those facilities were Wishek Hospital Clinic Association in Wishek, West River Health Services in Hettinger, and Sakakawea Medical Center/Coal Country Community Health Center in Beulah/Hazen.
“We support the students big time,” said Marie Mettler, public relations specialist at Sakakawea Medical Center. “We’ve had students participate in past years. Hopefully, by offering sponsorships, we will get more kids interested in the future. It is hard to find enough providers for our rural facilities, so if we can support students who may someday come back to work in our community, it is well worth the money.”
The success of Scrubs Academy I for middle school students has prompted the development of an advanced R-COOL-Health Scrubs Academy II, which will be open to students who will be entering grades 10 through 12. A Scrubs Academy II will be offered in July 2020 and will be based out of Minot.
McCarty and Schmidt are not surprised by the Academy’s success. They said it was an honor to be a part of the first camp, and they look forward to seeing it grow in the future.
“The Scrubs Academy’s effort toward inspiring the next generation of rural physicians and health care providers meant a great deal to me, and it certainly means a lot to other students as well,” said Schmidt.
Parties interested in learning more or sponsoring students to Scrubs Academy I or II can do so online here.