M*A*S*H program gives Fort Smith area high school students introduction to medical careers

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 794 views 

The Medical Applications of Science for Health (M*A*S*H) Program kicked off Monday (June 27) from Sparks Hospital’s Charles Shuffield Education Center. The two-week program is designed to give an overarching look at the healthcare profession to students between their sophomore and junior and junior and senior years of high school.

It’s one of several summer programs in the area.

Launched in 1988 out of UAMS South Central in Pine Bluff, the statewide program has been a part of the Fort Smith healthcare system since 1990 and is coordinated by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS). Since the program’s inception, more than 7,500 students have passed through the training.

A similar program called Community Health Applied in Medical Public Service (CHAMPS) was first piloted in 1995. CHAMPS is an abbreviated one-week option that is typically geared for younger students (8th – 10th grade) in smaller and more rural communities that may not have the population, resources, or staff capacity to support a full two-week M*A*S*H camp.

UAMS begins contacting high schools shortly after Jan. 1, working initially through counselors or school administrators to gauge interest.

“We’ve been doing it so long they expect to hear from us,” explained Don Heard, director of UAMS West in a recent interview with Talk Business & Politics. “We start the ball rolling and share with them the process and forms students need to complete. Then in March or April, we’ll start receiving applications and looking through them. By May, we’re finalizing the list and getting students into the hospitals they have the most interest in.”

Heard continued: “The idea is to give students an in-depth look at healthcare as a career—to spend time at a local hospital and hear presentations from doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, and healthcare administrators and let them have a chance to see what a career in healthcare would be like.”

On day one, students meet for general orientation and receive assigned lab coats. They are then briefed about patient confidentiality, Heard said, because “when they’re in the hospital, they may see or observe something, and they need to be aware of the respect with which to treat a patient’s medical care.”

“We have also had professionals like police officers come in to speak with the students about what they would do in the state of a community emergency and how healthcare professionals can interact with law enforcement,” Heard said.

During the program students will have an opportunity to speak with doctors and nurses one-on-one and observe surgical procedures. Closer to the end of the two-week period, the group will tour the main UAMS facilities in Little Rock.

Heard continued: “The students just get to do a lot of things that relate to healthcare, and our medical community really gets behind us with this and seems to enjoy working with the students.”

Heard estimates that Fort Smith’s yearly enrollment totals are around 60 to 85 students across all hospitals (Sparks, Mercy, Sparks-Van Buren), while UAMS states that about 400 sign up statewide each year spread across more than 30 camps.

“We would hope through these types of efforts that some of these young students would take a real interest in healthcare,” Heard said. “It takes a long time to prepare a doctor, nurse, nurse practitioner, or pharmacist, and the sooner a young person can decide, it can help them in college to take the right courses and get lined up where they wish to be in relation to their career. The idea is to start filling that pipeline so that in 10 or 15 years from now, we have young people going into healthcare careers to replace those who are retiring. We want to keep that pipeline going.”

UAMS’s goal for the next three years is to have either a M*A*S*H or a CHAMPS camp within 30 miles of every student in Arkansas, and with the high rate of retention among student interest, it’s well on the way.

Still, M*A*S*H isn’t for everyone, something Heard readily admits.

“Of course we hope the answer is that they want to be in healthcare, but every once in a while – not very often – they say they would prefer something else, but when it does that’s okay, too, because it’s helping students in their decision-making process, and it moves them closer to whatever it is they wish to do.”

Considering that in 2015, 98% of M*A*S*H participants stated that after M*A*S*H they were more likely to pursue a healthcare career, with 68% more likely to pursue Primary Care and 60% more likely to practice in a rural or medically underserved area, the pipeline-building approach appears to be working.

It certainly needs to be.

Nationally, there is a projected shortage of more than 30,000 primary care providers by 2025 with Arkansas consistently ranking among the nation’s worst in health outcomes and in number of physicians per population. Shortages are especially evident in rural areas, with more than 500,000 Arkansans living in what are considered “Primary Care Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs),” including 45 of the state’s 75 counties (60%) that are fully or partially designated as HPSAs, according to a UAMS fact sheet.

Possibly more pronounced could be a shortage of nurses. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing reports that a shortage of training programs, the growing number of nurses reaching retirement age, and the number of baby-boomers moving through the healthcare system are some of the primary reasons that all 50 states now experience nursing shortages.

“The U.S. is projected to experience a shortage of Registered Nurses (RNs) that is expected to intensify as Baby Boomers age and the need for health care grows. Compounding the problem is the fact that nursing schools across the country are struggling to expand capacity to meet the rising demand for care given the national move toward healthcare reform,” noted the AACN report.