Pandemic inspires high school students for medical careers
When Shantel Hernandez signed up to intern at Jefferson County Public Health this spring, she got much more than she expected.
"I thought I'd be organizing files or answering phones," says Hernandez.
Instead, public health put Hernandez to work tracing contacts to people who'd tested positive for COVID.
"The student intern program is a win-win for us," says Public Health Director Michael Baker. "We get support for existing staff with students that are eager to learn."
"I learned it's not easy to figure out who got exposed to COVID and how," says Hernandez, who also learned how to stay calm and collected when telling someone they've tested positive for COVID.
She learned the rules of confidentiality in the medical profession.
Hernandez graduated from Madras High this spring. She plans to attend Seattle Pacific University in the fall and major in human physiology.
Visiting a children's hospital motivated Hernandez to become a doctor. "The parents are suffering, and the children don't know what's going on," says Hernandez. "It just hit me; I need to help those children." Hernandez took part in the Knight Scholars Program, which offers high school students whose communities are underrepresented in cancer research, health care and public health an opportunity to explore careers in cancer research, treatment and prevention.
Interning at the public health clinic, working along other health care professionals, enriched her desire to go into medicine.
"I want to go into pediatrics mainly because I love kids and I want to help people," says Hernandez, "especially children because they're so innocent and fragile"
Another MHS 2021 graduate, Taya Holliday, worked right beside Hernandez, helping with COVID testing, vaccine clinics and contact tracing.
"I sometimes get to shadow our nurses and see the stuff they do on a daily basis," says Holliday. "That helped encourage me to want to be a nurse."
Holliday planned to go into nursing or medical assisting before she joined the public health team.
"I live in Warm Springs. I'm Native American and growing up, there was not a lot of Native American staff or nurses or medical people," says Holliday. "My choice (to go into nursing) came from wanting to go back and help my own community. It's important because a lot of patients don't like opening up to non-tribal members."
Holliday says most of her work at the clinic involves the vaccine. "I'm learning a lot more about COVID, and pandemics, and protocols and how we can adapt and change all the time."
Based on her internship, Holliday recommends MHS students get a wide range of experiences.
"It's been really fun here. It's been great," says Holliday. "I learned a lot and made friends with coworkers."
"Taya and Shantel have both been ideal candidates," says Baker. "They have worked their way into being key parts of the work we do."
Baker gave Hernandez and Holliday an open invitation to volunteer at the clinic during their breaks from college. He considers their internships an investment in the future. "They may come back to public health after their education," Baker says. "It is a chance to build in a career track that hasn't existed before."
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