The growing industry of health care faces shortages of professionals in both Montana and nationwide.
An organization called Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) is trying to address this concern by encouraging high school students to pursue careers in the health care field. Through the program, students perform health-care related work and studies both in the classroom and in the community.
HOSA may not be as well known in Montana as Future Farmers of America, another Career and Technical Student Organization that’s now called the National FFA Organization. But in recent years, it has achieved rapid growth in the state, now with 10 chapters operating in high schools across the state.
Bergen Morehouse, the state HOSA advisor, said three new high schools joined last year: Ronan, Columbia Falls and Bozeman. With this 30 percent growth, the state organization now has 225 members, Morehouse said.
The other seven chapters are C.M. Russell High in Great Falls, Flathead High, Great Falls High, Helena High, Missoula Sentinel High, Augusta High and the Billings Career Center.
“In two years we’ve grown pretty significantly,” Morehouse said.
Most of those 225 members will be in Kalispell March 17-19 for the organization’s biggest annual event, the State Leadership Conference. Flathead Valley Community College and Kalispell Regional Medical Center are hosting the conference, which includes education symposiums and competitive events.
March 18 is the big day, Morehouse said, with the other two days dedicated largely to travel, along with some activities and an awards banquet on March 19. On the morning of March 18 at FVCC, students will choose from a variety of competitions that test their health care knowledge, including tests on nutrition, dental spelling and medical concepts.
Some events combine skill components, such as nursing assisting, in which students answer basic questions on the subject and then perform tasks. Among the tasks are making an unoccupied bed, transferring a patient from a bed or changing a patient’s gown. Students are also tested on their writing, speaking and critical-thinking skills.
“There’s a ton of different options and our students have been practicing all year for this,” Morehouse said.
Those who qualify in the top three in their respective events are eligible for a national competition in Anaheim in June. Fundraising will be have to be considered, Morehouse said.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to take a group of students from Montana down to the national competition,” Morehouse said.
Then on the afternoon of March 18, students will head over to KRMC for a series of educational symposiums. There they get first-hand experience with the inner workings of a hospital. They choose from 13 stations, including the A.L.E.R.T air ambulance, sports medicine, radiation therapy, imaging, physical therapy, the medical library, the surgery center, biomedical technicians working with equipment and more.
“There’s a lot of fun things the students get exposed to,” said Pat Wilson, executive director of education services at KRMC. “They get a wide variety. It’s not just nurses and doctors. They see a lot of different careers.”
Morehouse thanked KRMC for hosting the symposiums.
“The hospital has just been amazing in supporting us,” she said.
The lack of health care professionals, Morehouse said, is particularly apparent in rural regions and “especially in primary care.” Morehouse believes HOSA can play a role in remedying that concern through its involvement with the state’s smaller schools. She points to Augusta High as an example. Nearly half of the school’s roughly 40 students are involved with HOSA.
“We’re hoping that HOSA is one piece of that – giving students more exposure to the type of things they need to end up in health care professions and to serve those areas in most need,” Morehouse said. “Hopefully we can continue to grow in that way.”
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