North East health career camp honored

Over the past six summers, Mercyhurst University has offered Health Career Explorer Camps at the North East Campus, giving nearly 400 culturally diverse teens hands-on experience in nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, medical lab technology, respiratory therapy and emergency medical response training.

This year, Mercyhurst’s actions were recognized when it received a SPARKS Honorable Mention Award by the Healthy Youth Development of Erie County.

Linda Rhodes, Ph.D., director of the Hirtzel Institute on Health and Aging at North East, said, “The idea came from me and Penny Monahan six years ago when we discussed how we were not getting many minorities applying for nursing and allied health programs. We felt that we needed to reach out to the community rather than wait for them to come to our door step.”

Because of these beliefs, each summer The Hirtzel Institute on Health Education and Aging of Mercyhurst University survey new high school graduates.

Now that middle school children who entered camps four years ago are graduating, the university is witnessing the benefits as these previous campers sign up for degrees in allied health and nursing.

Research shows that reaching students in middle school and early high school creates a commanding learning experience that can be a life-changer.

“Young people, and especially minority children, are not aware of all the terrific career opportunities in health care. Our camps give them the opportunity to actually experience what it is like to be a nurse, a paramedic or a respiratory therapist. And that’s powerful,” Rhodes said.

At the camp, students receive their own set of scrubs and stethoscope while they are exposed to an intense week of clinical activities, field trips and sessions with professionals among six health occupations.

“We came up with the idea of offering summer camps and I wrote a grant that was funded by the Department of Labor and Industry for four years,” Rhodes said.

“Today, it is funded by the university and co-sponsors. The kids give us terrific reviews each year and our camp co-directors, Michelle Lukasiak and Elaine Stanton are the true heroes with this program,” she said.

Not only does the camp offer an opportunity for students to gain experience in the health fields and knowledge as to how to practice healthy lifestyles, but also an opportunity for furthering their educations. Each camp graduate receives a $2,000 scholarship toward any program at Mercyhurst University, North East Campus once they graduate from high school.