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High school students get a view into careers in health, medicine

Professionals give youths a peak into their jobs during the Health Career Institute at Fort Lewis College
Durango Fire Protection District volunteer Lt. Kimberly Ebner, left, and Robyn Gurule, a DFPD volunteer EMT, talked about working with Durango's fire agency on Sunday with students attending the Health Career Institute. (Patrick Armijo/Durango Herald)

Olivia Craig, 17, who will be a senior at Pagosa Springs High School, was inspired to examine a career in health care after watching nurses and doctors work with her grandfather as he battled lung cancer.

Kaylyn Eckhardt, 16, who will be a junior at Big Picture High School in Durango, said listening to shop talk from his step-mother, a nurse, has led him to explore a career in anesthesiology or emergency medicine.

Craig and Eckhardt are among the 17 high school students attending this year’s multi-day Health Career Institute at Fort Lewis College.

This is the seventh year for the Health Career Institute, formerly the Health Career Camp, which is organized by the Southwest Colorado Area Health Education Center.

The Health Career Institute seeks to introduce high school students to careers in the health and medical professions.

Visits from doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, emergency medical technicians, and others in the health field provide the students with an introductory view of health and medical careers.

Students also get educational planning – learning what courses they’ll need to take to prepare for a career in health or medicine.

On Sunday, students were visited by two Durango Fire Protection District volunteer emergency medical technicians.

DFPD volunteer Lt. Kimberly Ebner, who also is the city of Durango’s aquatics operations supervisor, told students 80% of all DFPD calls are related to medical issues.

“Emergency medical services are so important on any call. An EMT is so valuable. You’re delivering the basic service on any trauma call. You’re helping someone on probably the worst day they ever had,” she said.

She noted after particularly tough calls, DFPD is good at checking in on its employees’ and volunteers’ mental health to ensure they aren’t suffering psychologically.

“DFPD is like a big family. We all take care of each other,” she said.

Robyn Gurule, a volunteer EMT with DFPD, noted most employees at the organization start in the volunteer division, and DFPD pays tuition for volunteers to attend both fire and emergency medical training academies.

Young EMTs working with DFPD can expect to be paired with a more experienced EMT to help their development, Gurule said.

This year’s Health Career Institute began Saturday, and continues through Tuesday at FLC, where students have their own dormitory rooms.

During remaining days, they will work with FLC professors working in the fields of biology, physiology and sports psychology.

On Monday, students will learn about ophthalmology and eye surgery from a Durango ophthalmologist.

On Tuesday, students will study some basic medical practices. They will learn about vaccinations, using oranges to practice injections, and bananas to practice sutures.

Craig said she is exploring nursing and is thinking of focusing either in oncology or in neonatal medicine.

“I’m hoping I can make a difference with families, and give them a second chance at life,” she said.


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