Laying the foundation
Youth across North Dakota to learn about health professions through the annual Scrubs Camps.
Many healthcare professionals will often recall the exact moment they realized they wanted to enter the healthcare field. For Liz Tofteland, a registered nurse, it was witnessing a helicopter ride to the hospital for her grandfather when she was young. Now, she is creating opportunities for students to have their own “aha” moment through local Scrubs Camps.
Unlike Scrubs Academy, which brings sixth- through eighth-grade students from all over the state to the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences for a 4-day health career immersion camp, the Rural Collaborative Opportunities for Occupational Learning in Health (R-COOL-Health) Scrubs Camps are one-day camps hosted in rural communities.
The Scrubs Camps program is operated by the UND Center for Rural Health (CRH), and focuses on students in grades 5-12. Camps are organized by local site coordinators and supported by CRH grant funds. As part of the grant requirements, sites must work with a local healthcare facility, economic or job development authority, and a local school so that each camp is a community-wide effort. The collective goal is an event where students can learn about careers in healthcare from local healthcare professionals, which clears the ground for their later entry into the health workforce pipeline.
Tofteland is the ND eCare School Health program manager for the Central Regional Education Association, which covers 48 public school districts, plus additional non-public schools and colleges. As part of her role, she works to expose students to healthcare careers by hosting Scrubs Camps in various areas within her region. The most recent camp hosted by Tofteland was on April 15 in Linton, N.D., reaching 44 junior and sophomore students. The camp was initially going to be virtual, but Tofteland, who has hosted camps in the past, did everything she could to have the event in person.
“I know how good Scrubs Camps are in person,” Tofteland said, “and I know how impactful these hands-on sessions are. I just didn’t want to do the virtual route if we could help it.”
Following all appropriate COVID-19 precautions, and keeping participants distanced, she was able to have an in-person event with eight presenters, all from the local Linton community. “I am a nurse, and I know how important connection and engagement is. I think these camps are so important,” she said.
So far this year there have been eight Scrubs Camps in North Dakota, reaching an estimated 1,400 students in all. The largest camp took place virtually for the Devils Lake region, with 630 fifth- and sixth-grade student attendees from 14 area schools. Jennifer Carlson, executive director of the Northeast Education Services Cooperative, is the site coordinator for this camp, which was held through Zoom in March.
“We knew it was really important to hold the camp virtually, rather than not have it at all,” Carlson said, noting that this camp has been annually held since 2010 and teachers from her region’s schools eagerly await the announcement of the camp each year.
With the virtual platform, a lot more work went into preparation ahead of the event, which featured ten different health career sessions. Each school needed supplies mailed to them so students could use the appropriate materials during various sessions. For example, Legos were used during the pharmacy session where the activity demonstrated the process of creating medicine. As such, Lego packets needed to be sorted and mailed out to students ahead of the camp.
Both Tofteland and Carlson agree that even though the camps are a lot of work, it is more than worth it to give students a glimpse at a possible future career. Through local programs like Scrubs Camps, area students may start showing early interest in healthcare, which ultimately can lead to them coming back to their community to live and work in a healthcare setting. Donna Weigel, a nursing instructor at Lake Region State College (LRSC), has seen firsthand the effect the camp has on future health professionals.
“LRSC has many nursing students, and nearly all got their interest in healthcare from Scrubs Camps,” she said.
An average of nine Scrubs Camps are held each year in rural North Dakota communities. To learn more about hosting a Scrubs Camp, visit: ruralhealth.und.edu/projects/scrubs-program/camps.