For the past 12 years, students from Dickinson High School and other area high schools who are interested in pursuing careers in healthcare professions have been granted the unique opportunity to work with CHI St. Alexius Dickinson. These opportunities have provided students the chance to experience nearly every aspect of hospital service. In 2020, in recognition of the efforts of CHI and the various schools joining forces, the hospital was honored with the Impact Award by the North Dakota Association of Career and Technical Education (NDACTE).
Kevin Nelson, the director of the Roughrider Area Career and Tech Center, explained that the process began after freshmen high school students in 2009 were given a survey and asked what program they would study if it was applicable. Majority of the students replied with health science, and as such, over the past decade the program has continued to see an increase in the number of applicants — strengthening the program.
"We've really grown throughout the years," Nelson said. We went from zero students 12 years ago to almost 350 students interested in health science classes … training to be CNA registered nurses, doctors, whatever field they want to explore, they can pursue and have a little background."
Pat Billings, an R.N. Clinical Educator and now leader of the program at CHI St. Alexius explained that students in the program get to come into the hospital and ‘job shadow’ following a nurse, a doctor, or a lab technician for approximately two days out of each school week throughout the entirety of the semester. Due to the different fields associated with health science, students can study from the departments they find interesting to them, typically for a class period or for two full hours. Typically, the students that take the program are juniors and seniors.
Along with having a series of speakers and workers that allow for the students to job shadow, students will be able to get hands-on experiences within the hospital. Workers will set up different opportunities for the students to witness different parts of the hospital and explain their importance, and how certain situations would be played out.
Billings explained what one of those situations was like when the students were taken to the emergency room.
"We kind of set up an opportunity for them to kind of learn what we do when a trauma patient comes in and talked them through what happens," Billings said. "The nurse showed them the equipment, we had different staff come in and talk from their perspective, the E.R. doc came in and showed the equipment and we had a mannequin there so he kind of explained what would happen to the patient in different situations and scenarios."
Throughout the program, the staff workers that talked and worked with the students each explained why they personally decided to pursue a career in health science. With that, the different departments sometimes featured different labs for the students to get a better feeling and understanding of the careers they find interesting.
"We’d set up a thing where they get to come they’ll bring out some of their equipment and we’ll have it in a different room and the students get to come in and do hands-on stuff with some different things and learn," Billings said. "We kind of set up mini-skills stations with some different departments."
In past years, the students were allowed to go on school visits to North Dakota State University and University of North Dakota to visit their health science educational system. However, due to COVID-19, the visits have been stopped until further notice.
Billings said the award was a great honor, but it was a team effort, crediting those that helped set up the system before giving her the reigns a little over a year ago. Billings added it's all for the students and the potential health workers they could become.
"I think the more opportunities you have to share with the students, the better opportunities they have to see what’s out there. I mean sometimes people think medical helps feel out nurse or doctor, they don’t realize all the opportunities that are out there," she said. "We’ve been able to get them interested in things, hopefully down the road they may come back and work for us."