Building Vermont’s Future Healthcare Workforce

Forty high school students from southern Vermont spent three full days; 20 June 29-July 1, and another Aug. 20 3-5, immersed in job shadowing, team activities, clinical skills building, and mentorship at Rutland Regional Medical Center in Rutland, Vermont. They participated in the Southern Vermont Area Health Education Center’s MedQuest program to gain a deeper and richer understanding of the healthcare careers available to them in Vermont.

The Southern Vermont Area Health Education Center (AHEC) is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to growing and retaining Southern Vermont’s healthcare workforce, especially in rural and underserved communities. Through its early-career pipeline programs, Southern Vermont AHEC connects students to the exploration of healthcare careers, meaningful college internships in the community, and mentorship opportunities with healthcare professionals. Sustained efforts to expand the health workforce in Vermont will lead to increased access to primary and preventive care for all, and healthier communities.

MedQuest, one of Southern Vermont AHEC’s signature programs, was established more than 20 years ago as a week-long residential experience for high school students on a regional college campus. This summer, Southern Vermont AHEC piloted MedQuest 2.0, a three-day program hosted onsite at a local healthcare facility. The redesigned program model was informed by lessons learned during the pandemic and the need to further reduce or remove barriers to youth participation from rural and underserved communities.

“We wanted to create a program that was accessible to all students, while preserving the key elements that make MedQuest such a fun and engaging learning experience,” said Jennifer Scott, executive director of Southern Vermont AHEC. “Rutland Regional Medical Center has been a great partner in realizing our vision. They are unequivocal in their commitment to Vermont’s future healthcare workforce.

Guided by first-year medical students from the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine, students immersed themselves in a curriculum that explored topics such as the social determinants of health and empathy, the medical ethics and basic clinical skills. A learning module introduced knee anatomy, injuries and assessment, where students practiced knee exams in pairs. Students also learned how to perform interrupted and continuous sutures with the kits provided. All learning modules and mentoring activities were designed and delivered by medical students.

Maddy Powell, Medical Student Mentor commented, “I had an amazing time working as a MedQuest Mentor! It was a wonderful experience to share what I learned in my first year of medical school with such smart high school students. I have always been impressed by students’ curiosity and commitment to learning. It was also a pleasure to learn more about the aspirations of the students and what attracts them to a career in health care.

Health careers panels, representing a dozen health professions ranging from doctors, nurses and behavioral health specialists to those in such critical areas as nursing, pharmaceutical services, rehabilitation and biomedicine, were presented to the students over the three-day periods. The program concluded with a student showcase where participants presented a poster reflecting their unique interests and plans for achieving their future career goals.

“The MedQuest program encourages students to explore a variety of healthcare careers as part of their professional development,” said Amanda Richardson, Director of Healthcare Career Exploration. “The health care field is filled with many exciting, multilevel career options with pathways to completion that can meet every student’s aspirations. I am proud to say that the vast majority of MedQuest students graduate from high school and all participants plan to pursue a career in healthcare.

MedQuest has grown from serving an average of forty students each year in the region to forty students in the Rutland region alone. The partnership with Rutland Regional Medical Center has added tremendous value to the program, benefiting the hospital’s students, staff and leaders, as well as AHEC team members. The plan is to bring MedQuest to each of Vermont’s five southern counties over the next few summers.

“Southern Vermont AHEC is taking a long-term view to address the critical shortage of health care professionals in Vermont,” Scott explained. “It can take years to see the impact of career programs like ours on these types of shortages. What drives us is knowing that by inspiring students to meaningful and rewarding careers in healthcare, we are helping to build healthier communities across Vermont.

For more information about the Southern Vermont Education Center, visit www.svthaec.org

About the Southern Vermont Region Health Education Center
The Southern Vermont Area Health Education Center (SVTAHEC) is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to growing and retaining Southern Vermont’s healthcare workforce, especially in our rural and underserved communities. We invest our resources to connect students to health career exploration programs, meaningful college internships, and professional mentorship opportunities that will lead to increased access to primary and preventative care and healthier communities. Southern Vermont AHEC is one of two independent regional AHEC centers funded by federal, state, and community support working in partnership with the Office of Primary Care and the AHEC Program at the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine.

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