High school students shadow health care pros

Instead of spending their summer making minimum wage because their parents made them get a job or sunning themselves during the dog days of summer, 27 Eastern Washington students are shadowing doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists through Project HOPE. The program is coordinated by the Area Health Education Center at Washington State University Spokane in partnership with the Office of Community and Rural Health.

Project HOPE (Health Occupations Preparatory Experience) is an annual summer internship offered to high school students across Washington state. It is a competitive program for which students must apply early in the spring. This year more than 150 Washington high school students sought the experience and more than 50 were awarded the six-week internship.

Students rotate through several clinical and diagnostic settings during the internship, working 20 hours per week while receiving a weekly stipend and valuable learning experience. This summer 32 Eastern Washington health care facilities are hosting the high school students to introduce them to a variety of careers in the health care field.

Project HOPE interns can be found in 13 Eastern Washington communities including Chelan, Colfax, Ellensburg, Kennewick, Moses Lake, Pasco, Prosser, Quincy, Spokane, Sunnyside, Tonasket, Toppenish and Wenatchee.

Deaconess Medical Center, Holy Family Hospital, Sacred Heart Medical Center, St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Institute, and Valley Hospital and Medical Center are participating Project HOPE sites in Spokane. Students have the option to choose a health care facility within an easy commute distance from their home and may spend a part or the entire six weeks in one facility or more.

Project HOPE was first introduced as a pilot project in the summer of 2001 in response to the Washington Board of Health’s report on Health Disparities. Many of the primary recommendations of the Board to reduce health disparities among minority and rural populations focused on recruiting rural and minority youth into health occupations. Project HOPE creates opportunities for exposure to allied health and professional health careers with an emphasis on occupational shortages in areas such as laboratory, radiology, pharmacy and nursing.

The Washington State Department of Health and Washington’s two Area Health Education Centers urge local health care facilities to be a partner in the effort to expand the future health workforce, said Project HOPE coordinator Bettie Rundlett, who manages the program at the AHEC at WSU Spokane.

The AHEC at WSU Spokane, like similar AHEC organizations around the country, focuses on health professions education and training, recruitment, and retention, especially for rural and underserved communities. It is an integral part of the health science programs at the WSU Spokane campus, which include professional and graduate studies in health policy and administration, pharmacy, human nutrition, speech and hearing sciences, and exercise science.

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