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Rural Community Outreach Exposes Students to Health Care Professions

Outreach to rural Georgia communities is a vital part of the mission of both the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center (GRHIC) and Mercer University School of Medicine (MUSM). The MUSM Pathways Program, in particular, serves as an avenue to reach middle school, high school, and undergraduate students while promoting awareness of health care careers.

According to Be-Atrice Cunningham, director of MUSM’s Pathways program, community outreach is one of the ways MUSM is tackling the challenges of rural health by preparing the next generation of outstanding providers through education, research, and community engagement. She said, “We are constantly working to increase the diversity of our pool of applicants specifically targeting rural, underserved areas so that we can develop a pipeline of qualified students who are not only interested in practicing medicine but interested in practicing in rural Georgia. We are building that pipeline from the ground up through our Pathways program.”

Exposing students to professional careers early can significantly influence their education and career choices. By engaging students in rural communities, programs like Pathways provide unique opportunities to expose bright students to careers they may never have heard of, help them cultivate an interest, and develop professional skills that can be used in their hometowns.

This summer, GRHIC and MUSM teamed up to offer three free medical camps: an in-person camp for students in Randolph County, an in-person camp for Berrien County students, and a virtual camp for students across the state.

Randolph County Medical Camp at Andrew College

GRHIC and MUSM partnered with Andrew College to host a medical camp for Randolph-Clay students. Twenty rising ninth through 12th graders participated in activities facilitated by MUSM and Andrew College faculty. Daily topics covered respiratory health, pharmacy, health care professions, and a Stop the Bleed and suturing clinic. For respiratory health, activities included infection control and the proper way to wear and remove personal protective equipment. A chat with local pharmacist and Mercer alumna, Dr. Nikki Bryant, included demonstrations for how to prepare a saline drip, create lip balm with petroleum jelly and hydrocortisone, and correctly inject medicine using water and oranges to simulate the proper technique. Students explored various health care professions on the final day, an activity led by SOWEGA-AHEC health careers coordinator Trinity Pugh. Students gained insight into the nursing field and learned about wound care basics, vital sign assessments, and toured the Andrew College simulation lab.

Berrien County Medical Camp and Community Health Fair

More than 100 teens participated in the Berrien County camp, where students gained hands-on experience with sutures, intubations, blood pressure checks, injections, and sonograms from Mercer’s Physician Assistant (PA) Program Professor Erin Lepp and PA students. Mercer medical students Ashi Dama and Faith Harris led a mock medical case, guiding campers through symptoms and the process of making a diagnosis. Campers learned about health care facts, data, and statistics in Berrien County from Dr. Krista Mincey in the MUSM Department of Community Health. Mental health was an important topic at camp as students learned about mental health professions, anxiety and stress management, and how to seek help. They also learned yoga poses and moves as a way to relieve stress. Mercer University Pharmacy representatives Dr. Lea Winkles and Jordana Berry presented an overview of more than 100 pharmacy-related careers and taught students how to create a compound. They made hand sanitizer, aloe vera gel, and various fragrances. To round out the week of camp, students received Community Resiliency Model training. Joan Anderson, GRHIC senior field representative, and Travis Crafter, GRHIC community resource and assessment specialist and a licensed professional counselor, equipped students with a toolbox for dealing with stress and anxiety.

Camp in Berrien County was a collaboration through Pathways and the Faith in Rural Health (FIRH) initiative, which is a partnership between the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center, Mercer University’s School of Medicine, and McAfee School of Theology. The FIRH mission is to bring ministers, physicians, and health care providers together to address the physical, mental, and spiritual health needs of rural communities. The initiative began in Berrien County. Paul Byrd, FIRH program director, said, “Community leaders identified the needs for holistic health education. Evelyn Fox of Family Connection suggested that the best way to reach adults is to reach their children.” Fox envisioned a medical camp for Berrien students that culminated in to a free community health fair for their parents to receive health education and screenings. Byrd, Cunningham, and Fox teamed up to bring this vision into a reality. MUSM medical students provided blood pressure checks and a pig lung demonstration comparing a healthy lung and a diseased lung to bring awareness to the dangers of smoking and vaping.

Virtual Medical Camp

The virtual medical camp will be held July 10-14 and is for middle and high schoolers across Georgia. Students will learn about the human body, health care professions, and mental health as well as complete interactive experiments. The camp will be held two hours per day via Zoom, 10 a.m. to noon. A MUSM faculty member will teach on the topic of the day for the first hour. During the second hour, students will work through a case, solve puzzles, or perform an experiment with supplies provided by MUSM and a medical student as their small group mentor. To learn more, click here.