by Mark McGowan
Cleaning brick walls with a solvent that contains muriatic acid is dangerous enough without a nervous maintenance worker at the top of the ladder.
Sure enough, something startles him and he jumps.
The acid-laced cleaning product tumbles, spilling onto the coworker who’s on the ground to steady the ladder. As the acid begins to burn his upper arm, he stumbles backward over the other supplies, twists his ankle and breaks an arm in the fall. Meanwhile, the panicky man from atop the ladder has inhaled the toxic fumes, scorching his nose, throat and lungs.
It’s a frightening scenario that will play out at NIU next week for nearly 50 students from small-town high schools who are coming to campus for the fifth annual Rural Health Careers Camp.
Alan Robinson, director of outreach for the NIU College of Health and Human Sciences, said recently obtained input from last summer’s campers prompted the organizers to replace their traditional mock car crash.
“We pulled them in and asked questions about what they remembered,” Robinson said. “We learned the car crash simulation is passé for them because they see it every prom. The police in almost every community are doing that to scare the teenagers into not drinking and driving.”
But NIU’s simulation – car crash or hazardous chemical spill – is not to scare but to teach.
These campers are recruited and invited from rural communities across northern Illinois to glimpse jobs in health care in the hopes they will pursue those avenues and then return home to live and work.
“High school students from small, rural high schools do not apply for degrees in the health area. A few do, but not very many, and there’s a major need for that. Twenty percent of America is still rural,” Robinson said.
“Students in rural areas don’t have a lot of role models. There are not a lot of hospitals. They don’t see a lot of places to work. They don’t ever think about these types of careers,” he added. “We want to tickle their brains a bit and say, ‘Hey, there are a lot of opportunities here. You really should think about this.’ ”
The camp’s concept was developed during a 2004 summit in Rockford at the University of Illinois National Center for Rural Health Professions, a co-sponsor. Other sponsors are the NIU colleges of Health and Human Sciences and Education and the Northern Illinois Area Health Education Center. NIU Student Affairs also sponsors students.
Students ranging from incoming high school freshmen to high school juniors will sample clinical laboratory sciences, communicative disorders, dietetics, nursing and physical therapy. They will tour the clinics housed at NIU’s Family Health, Wellness and Literacy Center and visit NIU’s cadaver lab.
Campers are identified early in their secondary school lives by teachers and guidance counselors as having the potential to pursue health-related careers. If they enjoy the camp’s exploration of those careers through simulations and lab experiences, they still have time to enroll in additional years of health-related sciences such as biology and chemistry.
The camp schedule includes computer-driven career guidance and, when parents arrive Saturday morning for the camp finale, counselors from NIU’s offices of admissions and financial aid will speak to them about the steps their children must take for a smooth path to college.
Lighter educational activities also are planned: a tournament featuring trivia questions from Robinson’s popular Acuity game and public health pandemic game that demonstrates how germs are shared and spread.
“Martin McDowell, who’s the assistant director for curriculum development at the National Center for Rural Health Professions at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Rockford, is probably going to use the H1N1 swine flu as an example,” Robinson said.
“He engages the students in moving around the room, meeting a person, passing off something, then getting something, and then going to meet someone else.”
Other changes to this year’s camp including the overall timing (now Thursday morning through Saturday morning rather than Friday through Sunday) and the schedule of the session where the camp counselors talk about their academic lives to the young campers.
“Our counselors are majors in health career areas. We have three from NIU and six from the College of Medicine in Rockford, including medicine, pharmacy, nursing,” Robinson said. “We’re moving this panel discussion right up front so the campers can meet the counselors and know them as people.”