Bolgioni: Building the future health workforce in Vermont

by Peg Bolgioni, Marketing & Communications Manager, Southern Vermont Area Health Education Center

Twenty high school students from southern Vermont are spending three full days immersed in job shadows, team activities, clinical skill-building, and mentoring at Rutland Regional Medical Center in Rutland, Vermont. They participated in Southern Vermont Area Health Education Center’s MedQuest Program to gain a deeper, richer understanding about health careers available to them in Vermont.

Southern Vermont Area Health Education Center (AHEC) is a nonprofit, educational organization dedicated to growing and sustaining southern Vermont’s health workforce especially in rural and underserved communities. Through its early career pipeline programs, Southern Vermont AHEC connects students to health careers exploration, meaningful community-based college internships, and mentoring opportunities.

MedQuest, one of Southern Vermont AHEC’s signature programs, was established over 20 years ago as a week-long residential experience for high school students on a regional college campus. This summer, Southern Vermont AHEC piloted MedQuest 2.0, a three-day day program held on-site at a local health care facility. The reimagined program model was informed by lessons learned during the pandemic and the need to further reduce or eliminate barriers to participation for youth from rural and underserved communities.

“We wanted to build a program that was accessible for all students, while preserving the key elements that make MedQuest such a fun and engaging learning experience” said Jennifer Scott, Executive Director at Southern Vermont AHEC. “Rutland Regional Medical Center has been an excellent partner in bringing our vision to life. They are unequivocal in their commitment to the future health workforce in Vermont.”

Guided by first-year medical students from the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine, students dived into a curriculum that explored topics like social determinants of health and empathy, medical ethics, and foundational clinical skills. One learning module introduced knee anatomy, injuries, and assessment, where students practiced knee examinations in pairs. Students also learned how to perform interrupted and continuous sutures with kits that were provided. All the learning modules and mentoring activities were designed and delivered by the medical students.

Maddy Powell, medical student mentor commented, “I had an amazing time working as a MedQuest Mentor! It was a wonderful experience to share what I learned in my first year of medical school with such intelligent high school students. I was consistently impressed by the students’ curiosity and commitment to learning. It was also a pleasure to learn about the students’ aspirations and what draws them to a career in health care.”

Health career panels, representing a dozen health professions ranging from physicians, nurses, and behavioral health specialists to those in such critical areas as nursing, pharmacy services rehabilitation and biomed, were presented to students over a three-day period. The program culminated in a student showcase where the participants presented a poster reflecting on their unique interests and plans for achieving future career goals.

“The MedQuest program encourages students to explore a variety of health careers as part of their professional development,” said Amanda Richardson, Director of Health Careers Exploration. “The health care field is filled with so many interesting and multi-layered career options with pathways to completion that can meet each student’s aspirations. I am proud to say that the vast majority of MedQuest students graduate from high school and all participants are considering pursuing a health career.”

MedQuest has grown from serving an average of forty students regionally each year to serving forty students in the Rutland area alone. Partnering with Rutland Regional Medical Center has added tremendous value to the program, benefitting students, hospital staff and leaders, and AHEC team members alike. The plan is to bring MedQuest to each of the five counties in southern Vermont in future summers.

“Southern Vermont AHEC is taking the long view in addressing the critical shortage of health professionals in Vermont,” explained Scott. “It can take years to see the impact of career pipeline programs like ours on these types of shortages. What motivates us is knowing that by inspiring students to meaningful and rewarding careers in health care, we are helping to build healthier communities across Vermont.”

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About Southern Vermont Area Health Education Center
Southern Vermont Area Health Education Center (SVTAHEC) is a non-profit, educational organization dedicated to growing and sustaining southern Vermont’s health workforce especially in our rural and underserved communities. We invest our resources in connecting students to health career exploration programs, meaningful college internships, and professional mentoring opportunities that will lead to increased access to primary and preventive care, and healthier communities. Southern Vermont AHEC is one of two independent nonprofit regional AHEC centers funded by federal, state, and community support working in partnership with the University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine’s Office of Primary Care and AHEC Program.