The Next Generation of Healthcare Workers
By Jessica Rosencrans on
Healthcare has always played a central role in Kyan Woodruff's life. His sister was diagnosed with severe epilepsy when she was three years old. Woodruff grew up watching his sister have seizures, fall, and injure herself, all as a part of his daily routine. Even now as a 29-year-old, Woodruff's sister requires constant care and support.
It was because of his sister that Woodruff began educating others about seizures and the importance of proper care during and after a seizure. He became a national ambassador for epilepsy, a position he still holds today. But little did he know that enrolling in a medical careers class at Bismarck High School would change his perspective of healthcare entirely.
Through this class, Woodruff would be introduced to the organization HOSA – Future Healthcare Professionals, which would ignite a passion for helping others.
HOSA – Future Healthcare Professionals, generally known as HOSA, is a student organization that reaches middle school to postsecondary students. Its mission is to introduce students to the expanse of the healthcare industry and guide them to becoming the next generation of healthcare workers. It proudly boasts the title of being the only career and technical student organization that is 100% healthcare.
Katelyn Brinkman, the North Dakota state director for HOSA, was introduced to HOSA through her work at the North Dakota Area Health Education Center (AHEC). As the AHEC eastern director, she was asked to oversee North Dakota HOSA in December of 2020 when the previous director stepped away. The AHEC program office is held within the Center for Rural Health at the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences, and houses the eastern and western regional AHEC offices.
"Due to the positive impact that I had with the other programs I run, AHEC asked me if I would be interested in taking on HOSA," she said. "They thought I could take it to the next level."
AHEC asked me if I would be interested in taking on HOSA. They thought I could take it to the next level.
HOSA, which once stood for Health Occupations Students of America, has since dropped the title. The organization has gained traction in 49 states (all except Wyoming), Washington, D.C., American Samoa, Mexico, Canada, Korea, Puerto Rico, and China.
North Dakota, which first gained a HOSA charter in 2012, now has 16 chapters at middle and high schools around the state. One of the current goals for North Dakota HOSA is to increase rural chapters.
"AHEC was able to receive grant funding for new chapter development in rural areas," says Brinkman. "So, we are able to provide $5,000 for rural chapter startups. This amount can pay for stipends for an advisor or supplies for a hands-on experience."
Brinkman is also working to develop postsecondary chapters at North Dakota colleges and universities.
Hooked from the Start
She introduced me to HOSA, and from there I just ran with it.
Woodruff became captivated with HOSA from the very beginning. His medical careers teacher, Heather Frey, was the advisor for his local HOSA chapter. "She introduced me to HOSA, and from there I just ran with it," Woodruff said.
Not long into his first year of involvement, he knew he wanted to serve HOSA and North Dakota on a higher level. His ambitions were realized when he was elected to the North Dakota HOSA state officer team as the vice president of communications in March of 2021.
Through this position, Woodruff has expanded his leadership abilities, sharpened his public speaking, and become a healthcare advocate.
"I'm out giving speeches, I was able to represent HOSA in front of the State Legislature, it's a never-ending cycle of opportunities," he said.
HOSA is set apart from similar organizations, such as FFA or Future Business Leaders of America, because it does not receive funding from the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. This means that HOSA relies heavily on sponsorships to fund its events.
"It's a win-win," Brinkman says. "They [sponsors] offer funding and they get recognition across the state. This is their pipeline; these are their future employees."
North Dakota HOSA hosts two main events throughout the year: the Fall Leadership Conference, and the State Leadership Conference. These two conferences allow participants to learn about the variety of opportunities within the healthcare industry and showcase their knowledge and skills. Competitive events range from written tests to hands-on skill demonstrations, such as CPR/first aid, nursing assisting, and dental science.
In between events at the HOSA State Leadership Conference, students listen to keynote speakers and attend workshops hosted by local healthcare facilities.
"We bring in healthcare professionals and host social hours, so our students get a broad interaction with the healthcare industry," Brinkman said. "We expose them to a lot of different opportunities."
At the 2022 State Leadership Conference, held on March 20-22, students were able to participate in workshops, providing firsthand experience in dentistry, pediatric care, and trauma, among others. Woodruff also ran for re-election to the state officer team and was reinstated as the vice president of communications.
Between the two conferences, the North Dakota HOSA state officer team engages local chapters with smaller events on social media.
"This year we are doing an online competition and health-focused Q&As," Woodruff said.
These smaller events allow students to stay active within HOSA throughout the year, and continually learn more about the healthcare industry.
More Than Healthcare
One of the main benefits of HOSA is the breadth of skills it encompasses.
HOSA is more than just teaching someone healthcare skills. They get public speaking experience. They get leadership experience. They build these long-lasting relationships.
"HOSA is more than just teaching someone healthcare skills. They get public speaking experience. They get leadership experience. They build these long-lasting relationships," Woodruff said. "So, if anyone wants to flourish in any occupation, I'd tell them to get into HOSA."
Brinkman agrees. "We have a lot of leadership opportunities. The primary focus of our fall conference is on leadership skills. It's a career prep organization, and there are so many avenues that students can consider."
Woodruff's time in HOSA has changed his perspective of healthcare and helped him focus on his future goals.
"Originally, I wanted to be a doctor," he said. "But when I started with HOSA, I got the insight that healthcare isn't this picture-perfect thing. There will always be inequalities within healthcare, so you start to understand the true meaning of what healthcare is. It's not like in the movies. It humbles you."
Woodruff's current plans include graduating high school and attending college to get a nursing degree. Eventually, he would like to become a nurse administrator. But no matter where life takes him, he can go confidently knowing his experiences in North Dakota HOSA helped him become a better healthcare advocate and nurtured a lifelong passion for caregiving.