Many American kids will spend their summer at church camp, sports camp, or acting camp. In Wisconsin, some teens are attending medical career camp. With a growing shortage of health care professionals, camp organizers hope to get more young people interested in medicine.
"If you really care about people, make a career of it be one of the many people who put the 'care' into 'health care,'" says one training video.
They don't spend the week canoeing, picking up soccer tips, or even sharing ghost stories around the campfire. Instead, these young teens are learning what it takes to become respiratory therapists, and surgical technicians.
"Medical careers are truly rewarding, in more ways than you might think. There's good pay and benefits, flexibility when it comes to where and when you want to work, there's even a chance to really help someone and be a hero."
Day one of "Health In Practice", or "HIP" Camp includes a video about medical careers. Throughout the week, these campers will tour Milwaukee-area hospitals and medical schools. They'll meet doctors, nurses, and dentists. Ashley Carter, 13, thinks it's a great idea. She is determined to become a pediatrician, which might explain why she was able to sit through an entire live video feed of open-heart surgery. And she didn't even squirm when inspecting a dog's heart.
"To be able to hold a heart that close, and be like, it's right there, it's real interesting," she says.
In the lesson about the cardiovascular system, a few of the teens' faces scrunch up as they examine the hearts, which slide across plastic cafeteria trays.
Ashley is one of a few campers already interested in health care. She started thinking about becoming a pediatrician when a doctor spoke to her fifth grade class a few years ago.
"I was like hey, I like working with little kids and I'm interested in doing health and medicine, so you know, maybe I should think about this," she says.
The organizers of HIP camp hope similar epiphanies happen here.
"The idea of the camp is just, again, to get the seed planted," says Colleen Schultz, Education Manager for the Children's Health Education Center, which runs the camp. "There's a lot of different things they can do, if, you know, the campers leave with two or three new ideas of something they may want to look into, we feel that we have been successful," she says.
The Health in Practice camp started a couple of years ago when organizers began reaching out to young teens to talk about health care careers. It's become so popular, it expanded to four week-long sessions. While there isn't research showing that experiences like this can alleviate shortages in health care fields, the attitude here is, it never hurts to start early. Many of the boys at HIP camp say they want to become professional basketball players. But in considering the long odds of that happening, they toss out a few other possibilities.
"A respiratory therapist, that was a good one, cause, you know, it was only a two year degree and stuff," one boy says.
"Maybe a dentist," another boy adds.
A couple of others chime in about their newfound interest in dentistry, saying that it pays well. There is certainly a growing demand for dentists, nurses and other health care workers. A good portion of the workforce in American hospitals is nearing retirement age, just as aging baby boomers are about to need more medical care. Experts say shortages in all areas of medicine will get worse, unless more students are drawn into the field.
High school freshmen Sakura and Emily say their parents signed them up for this camp and they're willing to explore their career options.
But on a recent afternoon the girls seem more interested in getting skin care tips from dermatologist Peggy Tong than in learning about her job.
No one appears too concerned that some of the kids here aren't really interested in health care, even after a week of hearing about it, nearly non-stop. They say it's just one way to start them thinking about a career where they'll be in high demand.