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Focus on Rural Health

Sponsorships Help the Scrubs Academy Grow

By Marv Leier on

Since 2011, 512 students entering grades 7 through 9 have participated in the Rural Collaborative Opportunities for Occupational Learning in Health (R-COOL-Health) Scrubs Academy I. The Scrubs Academy I is a four-day/three-night camp that focuses on health careers and is held on the University of North Dakota (UND) campus. In the academy's inaugural year, 38 middle school students from across North Dakota took part in program. In 2019, the Scrubs Academy I more than doubled its first-year attendance, hosting 84 students, the most in the program's nine years.

Connor McCarty
Connor McCarty learning CPR at 2011
Scrubs Academy.

The Scrubs Academy offers any North Dakota middle school student the opportunity to learn about a variety of healthcare professions in engaging, hands-on, and interactive classroom sessions. In addition, students also get to experience what it is like to live and learn in a university environment.

Connor McCarty of Grand Forks and Walker Schmidt of Harvey were two students in the first academy. At the time, McCarty wasn't even thinking about a career in health. He just thought the camp sounded like a fun summertime activity. However, Schmidt came to the camp looking to learn more about medicine with the goal of someday becoming a physician in a rural community.

Fast-forward eight years. McCarty graduated from UND in May of 2019 with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology with an emphasis in pre-medicine.

I think Scrubs Academy had a major impact in planting the seed in what I chose for a major, as well as what I want to pursue for a career.

"My goal is to be accepted into medical school in the fall of 2020," McCarty said. "I think Scrubs Academy had a major impact in planting the seed in what I chose for a major, as well as what I want to pursue for a career."

Schmidt is in his senior year at UND and is in the process of applying to medical schools.

Walker Schmidt
Walker Schmidt learning about respiratory
therapy at 2011 Scrubs Academy.

"That same goal of becoming a family doctor still lingers with me, in no small part to my formative experience at the Scrubs Academy," Schmidt said.

The cost for students to attend the Scrubs Academy I is $275. Unfortunately for McCarty and Schmidt, sponsorships were not offered in 2011. However, for the last two years, many healthcare organizations throughout North Dakota are covering part of the cost for multiple students to attend the academy, or in some cases, paying the full cost for one or two students from their region to attend.

Kylie Nissen, senior program coordinator at the Center for Rural Health, has been involved with the R-COOL Health Scrubs program from the beginning. She says that even though North Dakota healthcare facilities may not see immediate results, they understand the value of the academy and are willing to invest in their youth.

"The funding these facilities provide for their local students shows the kids that their community is invested in them and the future of their area's healthcare workforce," Nissen said. "This is an enticement for the students to come back and practice in their hometown as a way to give back to the community that has already shown support for them."

Nissen said that in 2018 and 2019 there were a number of facilities that provided sponsorships for local students to attend the R-COOL-Health Scrubs Academy. They include:

Steph Everett
Steph Everett

The Mountrail County Health Foundation is a strong advocate and supporter of the academy. In the last two years, the foundation has provided sponsorships for 31 students. Steph Everett, Mountrail County Health Foundation director and CEO in training, says because there is a shortage of workers in the medical fields, it is important for rural healthcare organizations to "grow their own" providers.

"What better way to expose our youth to the medical profession than a hands-on, four-day camp on the UND campus," Everett said. "We started offering sponsorships to Stanley three years ago. This past year, we expanded the sponsorships to all five schools in our service area and were able to send 22 students to this amazing academy last summer."

This past year, we expanded the sponsorships to all five schools in our service area and were able to send 22 students to this amazing academy last summer.

Additional healthcare facilities offered sponsorships for students from their areas, too. However, some did not receive any local applications. Those facilities were:

"We support the students big time," said Marie Mettler, public relations specialist at Sakakawea Medical Center. "We've had students participate in past years. Hopefully, by offering sponsorships we will get more kids interested in the future. It is hard to find enough providers for our rural facilities, so if we can support students who may someday come back to work in our community it is well worth the money."

The success of Scrubs Academy I for middle school students has prompted the development of an advanced R-COOL-Health Scrubs Academy II, which will be open to students who will be entering grades 10 through 12. A Scrubs Academy II will be offered in July of 2020 and will be based out of Minot.

McCarty and Schmidt are not surprised by the academy's success. They said it was an honor to be a part of the first camp, and they look forward to seeing it grow in the future.

"The Scrubs Academy's effort toward inspiring the next generation of rural physicians and healthcare providers meant a great deal to me, and it certainly means a lot to other students as well," said Schmidt.


Would you like more information about how to become a sponsor?

This article originally appeared in the Holiday 2019 issue of North Dakota Medicine.

Marv Leier Marv Leier was formerly the Communications Manager at the Center for Rural Health at the University of North Dakota (UND) School of Medicine & Health Sciences in Grand Forks.