Kristina Bethel laughs as she remembers the moment she was accepted into Freeman Health System’s Health Academy held this week at Joplin Regional Hospital.
“I was very excited,” the McDonald County senior said Wednesday morning. “Even when (Freeman) sent the test email, I grabbed my phone from someone to check it because it said ‘health academy.'”
Earlier this year, Bethel wrote and submitted an academy application that included an essay highlighting how it would benefit her and a possible career in health care. From the age of 5, she knew that she wanted to dedicate her life to health care, following in the footsteps of her grandmother, who worked for many years in a hospital.
“When I finally got the approval, I was at the lake house bragging to my whole family about it,” Bethel said. “It was very exciting for me.”
A total of 26 students from the area were selected to participate in this year’s academy, a long-standing Freeman tradition that has been temporarily suspended for the past two years due to the global pandemic.
Throughout the week, students were given in-depth tours of key areas of Freeman Hospital West, from radiation oncology and rehabilitation therapy to the emergency department and cardiac institute. They peered inside an air mobile helicopter, participated in classes teaching CPR and other skills, and dissected pig fetuses while learning how to suture wounds.
“Freeman is very encouraging about opening its doors to people to explore what jobs might interest them; it gives them the chance to take a moment and step into that role before they make that decision,” said Natalie Feist, clinical student educator for Freeman. “We all know that education is expensive; it’s hard to relate to something you think you know a lot about, but you might not know what it’s like on a daily basis. It gives them an opportunity to see what a day in the life is like to play any role here.”
The academy gives students “a chance to walk in the door and look at the environment and see what’s going on and if it would be of interest to them,” Feist continued. “Doctors and nurses are the first things that come to people’s minds” when it comes to health care jobs. “But there are hundreds of separate jobs in the health care system, and not all of them are related to patient care. It takes many years to keep this little town here, and we want (students) to have an opportunity to know that.”
Regarding the dissection lab, for example, Feist said it can lead academy students who want to become scrubs or first assistants to experience and be pushed in a direction that will most benefit their interests and skills. But they wouldn’t know any of that if they didn’t get a chance to try it at the academy, she said.
Juliet Unreder, a 16-year-old junior at McAuley Catholic High School in Joplin, said she’s wanted to be a doctor since she was little, “so I thought (the academy) would give me an opportunity to see what other career options there are because a doctorate is like 12 years of school and I don’t know if it’s something I necessarily want to do.
One part of the hospital that fascinated her was the laboratory.
“I thought that was really cool because it’s one of those places … what’s going on behind those doors? What are they doing down there?” she said. “We got to (see) some blood samples down there and we got to see them incubate (samples) and I even got to smell one of them, which I wouldn’t recommend. But it was really interesting to see.
In the end, she said, “it was such an amazing opportunity.”