Published to: swtimes.com

Written by: Jadyn Watson-Fisher

Student physicians and faculty members from the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education have actively worked this year to build an educational outreach program for kindergarteners through college students, or K-16.

The “pipeline” program is designed to connect with future healthcare workers, whatever age they may be.

Director of Institutional Relations Barry Owen said students from the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine visit schools to discuss opportunities in the healthcare industry, give tours, visit school-based health clubs, help host summer camps, show what a day in the life of a medical student is like and provide research partnerships with high school and university students.

Owen, previously the Fort Smith Public Schools chief academic officer, said students attended the iCan Career Expo for the district and presented to about 1,000 seventh graders about becoming a doctor, physical or occupational therapist. They were able to see the automated simulation mannequins and listen to their vitals.

Euper Lane held a family fun night, and ARCOM students did a bicycle helmet safety demonstration. Executive Director of Communications Susan Devero said the students would drop an egg to see it break. Then, they placed another egg in a protected container, which didn’t break, to represent the importance of helmets.

“It’s just as important for (our students) to get in front of their future patients as it is for those students to hear about opportunities,” Owen said of the events. “It’s a win-win. It creates a sense of confidence in the medical student as well as a sense of hope and realistic optimism for the students who might aspire to come here.”

Most of the interactions with the students are done by ARCOM physicians, Owen said, because “two 20-something-year-old medical students in their white coats” relate to the kids better than “an old guy in a suit.”

Devero said the young students feel comfortable talking to the doctors. There’s also a sense of optimism, Owen said, that they can become healthcare professionals in the future.

″(ARCOM students) absolutely love it, especially the students who aspire to be pediatricians,” Owen said. “When you can plug them into schools where kids are — the thing they think they want to do as a career — they are just all over it.”

The outreach projects, however, don’t only focus on healthcare jobs. Owen said the students understand that not every kid will be a doctor, nurse or similar career and work to include lessons that can apply to anyone.

Owen said they talk about working well with others, always showing up and being willing to continue learning.

“Whatever you aspire to be, go for it, put your all in it,” Owen tells students. “Start planning for it now, so you’ll be prepared.”

Owen was hired to provide a centralized program that can connect kids and schools with ARCOM, many of whom are unaware of the Fort Smith medical college. He wants them to know they can become whatever they dream to be and do it close to home.

Devero said she attended an event at Northside High School and was approached by a boy, dressed in khakis and a blazer, who said he planned to graduate, attend the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville and come to ARCOM. She said he will likely be a part of the interview process next year.

“I looked behind me to some students and said, ‘There’s our dream,’” Devero said. “That’s what we want to do.”