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VHOP Prepares 11 High School Students for Health Careers

Members of the 2012 SEARHC Ethel Lund Village Health Occupations Program pose for a group photo in Sitka.

Members of the 2012 SEARHC Ethel Lund Village Health Occupations Program pose for a group photo in Sitka.

Photo: Courtesy of SEARHC

SITKA, May 4, 2012 — Eleven Alaska Native/American Indian high school students from rural Alaska communities learned about health careers as they participated in the 2012 Ethel Lund Village Health Occupations Program (VHOP) on April 24-27 in Sitka.

Each year, the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) selects several Southeast-area Native students interested in health careers for VHOP, and the students spend a week at the SEARHC S’áxt’ Hít Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital learning about different health careers and educational opportunities. The health field is growing, which means plenty of job opportunities for people with the right training. Health careers usually offer good pay and employee benefits, which are rare in rural Alaska, as well as the satisfaction of helping others.

“This year’s group was particularly engaging, respectful and professional,” said SEARHC Tribal Recruitment Coordinator Jessika Beam, who runs the program. “I could see the excitement and motivation in the students’ faces throughout the week. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for this group, and I am honored to have been a part of this year’s program.”

This year’s program had two third-year participants and a second-year student. Seven of the students were from Mt. Edgecumbe High School, with the others from Southeast Alaska villages. The participants this year were Ty Ely of Craig, Quintin Hafendorfer of Pelican, Rebecca Mork of Wrangell, Mariel Otto of Kongiganak, Christopher Bean of Pelican, Chelsea Lekanof of St. George, Nellie Alakayak of Manokotak, Calvin Frankson of Anchorage, Kayla Merculief of Sitka, Mildred Nanouk of Unalakleet and Makayla Walcott of New Stuyahok. The chaperones were André Lewis and Bitty Balducci.

The goal is to cultivate an interest in health care, encourage that interest, and hope that a health career grows out of the efforts. Some of the activities for this year’s program included:

  • Job shadowing with health care professionals at S’áxt’ Hít Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital. 
  • Hands-on activities with dental students from the University of Washington-School of Dentistry that had students suturing bananas and reconstructing teeth out of clay.
  • Dr. Gary Ferguson and Desirée Simeon of the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium gave a presentation on the “Store Outside Your Door” project, and conducted a hands-on activity (with Sitka tribal elder-in-training Steve Johnson) that focused on traditional foods and had students gathering wild and edible plants.
  • A barbecue at the University of Alaska Southeast-Sitka Campus that included a presentation on programs offered through the university and a tour of the health sciences department.
  • Self-care and wellness. Students enthusiastically participated in yoga, an outdoor ropes course and completed a True Colors workshop.

The program concluded with a graduation ceremony and the students voted on their favorite department and favorite department staff member. The SEARHC Dental Department was chosen as favorite department, and there was a tie for favorite department staff member between radiology tech Sarah Blue and Dr. Connie Kreiss. For more information about VHOP, contact Jessika Beam at 966-8903 or go to http://www.searhc.org/students/vhop.php.

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