They wear gray scrubs, lab coats, comfortable shoes and shy smiles. They are teens who are part of M*A*S*H, an acronym for the Medical Applications of Science and Health program administered by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. M*A*S*H is a two-week summer program that introduces high school juniors and seniors to health care professions by allowing them to shadow workers, attend workshops and get hands-on training.
A group of 51 students and their parents celebrated completion of the program Friday at Mercy Hospital Fort Smith. The Mercy group is the largest among nearly three-dozen M*A*S*H programs around the state, says Monique Forehand, who directs the Fort Smith program for UAMS.
Lisette Trevino, a student from Southside High School in Fort Smith, says she observed a neurosurgeon performing back surgery and even a birth. Witnessing the miracle of life was incredible, but it also made Trevino realize obstetrics probably isn’t for her. A visit to the neonatal intensive care unit was inspiring, but also tough.
“I don’t have the heart for it,” Trevino says.
What left the biggest impression was a visit to the Gregory Kistler Treatment Center, where she saw a patient recovering from injuries in a car accident working with an occupational therapist on arm strength. She likes the idea of being able to work so closely with patients.
Learning about what health care fields best suit her is invaluable, Trevino says.
Mercy Hospital Fort Smith ensures that students get a hands-on, intensive experience, Forehand says. The program is different every year because much depends on what situations crop up.
“Everyone here will let the students in to observe, knowing that they are the future of health care,” she says, referring to both health professionals and patients, who must give consent.
Students do rotations in different areas including the emergency department, surgery, nursing, labor and delivery, laboratory and physical therapy. Diverse activities include dissecting a sheep’s heart and learning CPR.
Andy Ceniceros, executive director of clinic operations for Mercy Hospital Fort Smith, gives students a tour of facilities where radiologists work and patients have diagnostic studies such as ultrasound and CT scans.
In addition, he asks them to play a game finding images hidden in a picture. While they work, he interrupts with fictional questions about medical situations. What if a doctor needs a needle count for surgery while you’re reading a study? What if you get a call that one of your patients is in crisis while you are busy with another study?
After the exercise is over, he asks, “How did that make you feel when I was interrupting?” The students admit they didn’t like it. They’re competitive and wanted to excel at the game.
Ceniceros’ point is to illustrate how medical workers must multitask, be completely focused on the patients they are dealing with and quickly change focus.
It’s a tough field, he tells students. There are long days coupled with nights on call. If you’re in it for the money, you will become disillusioned, he says.
“I want to give you a little bit of reality, what it’s like working every day in health care,” he says. “It’s not as glamorous as people sometimes see it from the outside.”
Ceniceros encourages students to take a personality test to see what their best health care match might be. An ultrasound technologist, for example, must be very comfortable with people.
“Really get to know yourself,” he suggests.
The M*A*S*H program began in 1988. Mercy has been involved since the outset, says Cristelyn Roebuck, coordinator of community health for Mercy Fort Smith. About 175 students applied to the competitive program this year. The majority are straight-A students, Forehand says.
Mercy Hospital Fort Smith not only had the largest group in the state but also the largest group Mercy Fort Smith has hosted, Roebuck says.
Participation is free for students. Costs for the program are covered by the Arkansas Farm Bureau, UAMS Regional Programs, Baptist Health and local hospitals that host the programs.
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