For Your Health

News from the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences

Scrubbing in again

The UND Center for Rural Health Scrubs Academy I returns to UND.

Throughout the University of North Dakota (UND) School of Medicine & Health Sciences (SMHS) building, middle school students wearing green t-shirts could be seen walking the halls in groups and talking excitedly with one another this past June.

Despite their tender age, these students had gained firsthand knowledge of a plethora of healthcare careers via UND’s Rural Collaborative Opportunities for Occupational Learning in Health (R-COOLHealth) Scrubs Academy I. Over the course of a few short days in this first of two such academies sponsored by UND’s Center for Rural Health (CRH), these bright young students learned about medical procedures, exploring different health professions, and delving into future career opportunities.

Scrubs Academy I, a four-day/three-night health careers camp held on the UND campus for North Dakota students who have completed grades 6-8, saw its triumphant return to Grand Forks on June 5-8 after being disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the last Academy having taken place in 2019.

Scrubs Academy serves as a minipreparation program to strengthen academic skill sets associated with health disciplines, introducing adolescents to a higher education experience and fostering a relationship between the students and healthcare professionals. The Academy is funded by a State Office of Rural Health grant with additional sponsorships from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota and Visit Greater Grand Forks.

Academy activities

An overarching goal of Scrubs Academy is to encourage students from rural areas to pursue a career in healthcare and, eventually, become part of the rural health workforce. Through a rotating schedule, 77 academy participants were introduced to 27 different health-related careers. Professions that the students explored included dentistry, neuroscience, respiratory therapy, speech language pathology, optometry, occupational therapy, emergency medical services, nursing, nutrition/dietetics, veterinary care, and animal assisted therapy, among others.

Hands-on activities are a key component of Scrubs Academy. While learning what each profession entails, the students were offered a chance to try their hand at a related science activity, including dissecting cow eyes, suturing pig feet, and hearing a baby’s heartbeat in the womb.

The sessions showed strong partnerships with different health organizations around the state. The North Dakota State University group Bison Strides brought two mini horses to the academy to showcase the programs they offer: adapted therapeutic horsemanship, equine assisted learning, physical and occupational therapy, and a military and veterans horsemanship program. The minis, named Tony and Spark, taught students how animals can help individuals with physical, cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and mental health challenges, and allowed students to experience a mock equine assisted learning session.

In addition to the action-oriented sessions, all participants were trained in Friends and Family CPR and completed Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) certification.

Learning by doing

The Scrubs program also hosts Scrubs Academy II for students who have completed grades 9-12, and Scrubs Camps, which are one-day camps held in local communities to introduce students in grade 5-12 to healthcare careers. Scrubs Camps, which began in 2009, are collaborations between a rural healthcare facility, a school district, and a local economic or job development authority.

Hannah Quinn, a registered nurse at Sanford Health Clinic in Grand Forks, attended Scrubs Academy I in 2013 and 2014. Her experiences opened her eyes to the variety of career paths available in healthcare.

“Before Scrubs Academy, I thought the only health career options were doctors and nurses,” Quinn shared. “Something that really struck me was how flexible nursing was. Gaining that insight helped me realize that nursing, and not becoming a doctor as I had originally thought, was the right decision for me.”

Quinn graduated from Northland Community College in East Grand Forks, Minn., earning an associate degree in nursing that later allowed for her certification as a registered nurse in 2023. She plans to attend Bemidji State College soon to earn her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing, hoping eventually to become a nurse practitioner and work in geriatrics.

Aside from bringing clarity to her future career, Quinn also recalls that Scrubs Academy allowed her and her fellow campers to access the cutting-edge technology used in healthcare.

“The thing I remember most is being introduced to telehealth in 2013. They sat us down and explained how brand-new telehealth was,” she said. “Looking back and seeing how much it was used during COVID, it is crazy that I was part of one of the first non-healthcare populations to see it.”

Supporting the future of healthcare

Hospitals and other healthcare organizations have the option to sponsor students to attend the Scrubs Academy.

These sponsorships help cover the $275 registration fee for each student and can go towards students from the sponsoring organization’s service area or be used to fund students looking for financial aid. This year, eight organizations from around North Dakota sponsored a total of 36 students to attend the 2023 Scrubs Academy.

For First Care Health Center (FCHC) CEO Marcus Lewis, whose Park River-based facility sponsored 20 students to attend this year’s academy, Scrubs is vital.

“As anyone in rural healthcare can tell you, ours is one of the most rewarding careers that young professionals can choose,” said Lewis. “Getting our youth exposed to the expansive career fields offered at the academy only strengthens our communities and the collaborative healthcare models of the future.”

The 2023 Scrubs Academy was the first of its kind that Brittany Dryburgh, project coordinator for the Scrubs Program, had been part of since she began working for CRH.

“It has been truly amazing to witness the generosity of our rural communities and their passion to support their students,” Dryburgh said. “Each of the rural facilities that sponsored students shared with me their hope that Scrubs Academy I would encourage students from their communities to explore healthcare careers and maybe one day join the healthcare workforce in the community that helped them attend the Academy.”

Lasting impact

Recalling her own Scrubs experiences, Quinn shares her gratitude for her family’s encouragement and for the opportunities given to her at Scrubs Academy.

“I always knew I wanted to work in healthcare, but I didn’t necessarily know what that would look like for me,” she said. “Seeing the difference in patient interactions between doctors and nurses helped me realize that I wanted to be a nurse. I want to support people and be there for those who don’t necessarily have anyone else to lean on.”

Lewis is optimistic that Scrubs Academy will leave a lifelong impression on the participants and, through them, positively impact rural communities.

“CRH has been a valuable partner and resource for us, and this value translated into a great program and experience for these kids,” he said. “Scrubs Academy planted a seed in each youth. We look forward to how these seeds blossom into future curiosity and we are excited to help grow these students’ individual passion for the care of their neighbors and families.”

By Jessica Rosencrans