On Friday afternoon, several groups of high school students met in various conference rooms at the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific-Northwest (COMP-NW).

They were led through an exercise in differential diagnosis by COMP-NW medical students as part of the first-ever Summer Health Immersion Program hosted on the campus. The diagnosis exercise was just one part of a series of lessons designed to introduce students to different areas in health care.

The program was mostly filled with Lebanon, Sweet Home and East Linn Christian Academy students. On Thursday, they toured the COMP-NW campus and visited the adjoining Linn-Benton Community College Health Occupations Center. They learned about blood glucose tests, urinalysis, and X-rays, and attended a lecture on the importance of diet and nutrition. The students also received CPR training.

On Friday, they made their own lip balm, learned about the use of the otoscope and ophthalmoscope, and attended a lecture on blood oxygen.

The program concluded on Saturday with an escape room exercise, an opportunity to practice suturing, and a discussion of various health career occupations led by students in those fields.

The suturing was a highlight of the weekend for Katrina Reynolds, a recent Sweet Home High School graduate who plans to become an orthopedic surgeon. 

"Suturing would be very important to the career I am aiming toward. I had a lot of fun with that," Reynolds said. 

For the past several years, Reynolds has been an active participant in the Lebanon Health Career Ladder program, which is operated by COMP-NW. On six Saturdays each school year, middle school and high school students are invited to the campus to take part in enrichment activities designed to build interest and expertise in math and science.

"It's not necessarily health-specific, it's more of a STEM program," said COMP-NW administrator Jeannie Davis, Ed.D. "We have science, math, engineering. We try to make the Saturday academies very hand-on and try to relate them, hopefully, to what they are doing in school."

The Summer Health Immersion Program is an outgrowth of the Health Career Ladder. Mindy Utley leads the Health Career Ladder program and said it is funded entirely by grants. A recent grant from the Ford Family Foundation provided funding for the summer program.

Reynolds said she has enjoyed the Health Career Ladder program. She thinks the best part of the program is the relationships she has built with fellow students and with the COMP-NW students who volunteer their time to help lead the sessions.

"I really enjoyed meeting the people and the students, you're really able to connect. When you're with a group of people, even if it's once a month, for several years, you start to get more comfortable and more used to them,  " Reynolds said.

Austin Kleint, a second-year student at COMP-NW, helped organize the Summer Health Immersion Program. Kleint, who grew up in Lebanon and graduated from Lebanon High School, had the idea for a summer camp focused on health care and science. 

"People from rural communities usually don't believe they can go into science-related fields, such as health care. Or they aren't ever exposed to it," Kleint said.

He brought the idea Davis and Utley and they worked together to create the program. 

He said the program benefits the COMP-NW students as well as the high school participants.

"Being able to teach something means you understand it a lot more," Kleint said. "You have to be able to teach it three different ways because people learn in different ways."

It is also an opportunity for the medical school students to encourage young people to consider this path for themselves.

"It gives me an opportunity to take joy. We are so far in the books and this gives us a time to go out in the community and take part in the community," Kleint said.

It was not just COMP-NW students who volunteered their time. Shay Tikeya is in his second year at the Oregon State University College of Pharmacy. He helped lead the lip balm exercise and discussions about the wide range of career options which exist for pharmacists.

"We don't want the kids to be bored and it's fun for us," Tikeya said. "Most folks are in the health care field because they want to help. We want to see the community grow and we want to be here for the community. It's kind of fun."

Jesseca Wolter, a rising junior at Lebanon High School, had not previously attended the Career Health Ladder but was interested in the summer program.

"They came and talked to our health classes and I was kind of intrigued by it. I want to go into phlebotomy and I thought it would be a good thing to get some more information about the whole medical field and hear from people who are in those classes," Wolter said.

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