In an effort to grow their own medical professionals, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center hosted about 35 students from Ector County ISD high schools to give them a glimpse of various medical fields.
The event was held at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center’s new academic building and it also gave students a chance to try out different procedures with Sim mannequins or virtually.
ECISD Executive Director of Career and Technical Education Ryan Merritt said this first event was geared toward giving high school students interested in medical careers, specifically becoming a medical doctor. The smaller event gave students an opportunity to make personal connections with medical providers.
“The powerful thing for me is that it gives students the opportunity to talk to the individuals that are professionals in the field. These are medical doctors that they’re talking to; they’re medical students. The takeaway is once they start connecting with individuals here, we want to provide the students with more opportunities in the future for job shadowing and maybe some internships and some other ways to engage in the career field,” Merritt said.
Students rotated through the stations set up every eight minutes and heard a presentation covering the need for health care professionals across the state and West Texas, Merritt said.
“Almost every county is in high need. They’re having shortages of employees in the healthcare field, so the message that was sent here is that the students can go to high school here in Odessa and stay within West Texas all the way through medical school if they would like …,” Merritt said.
Students could finish high school, go to Odessa College or UTPB and Texas Tech for medical school, he added.
“I think the students are excited to be here and I really appreciate all the work that Texas Tech did to put this event together, getting their staff members here and organizing the event. It’s been really nice,” Merritt said.
Texas Tech Health Sciences Associate Professor Dr. Adrian Billings said this was part of a competitive, five-year federal grant from the Health Resources Services Administration that Texas Tech submitted in January. They were awarded the grant in July 2022.
“The whole idea behind this grant is to impact everybody from middle school students that are interested in healthcare all the way to faculty physicians. We’re trying to grow our own physician workforce for the West Texas area and hopefully retain them on as faculty either on campus and/or in the rural communities …,” Billings said.
Assistant Professor Dr. Martin Ortega, regional chair and assistant regional dean for medical education, said the event is really important because of the great need for healthcare providers. Ortega said they are all very passionate about being even a small part of forming the next generation.
“… Events like this give us an opportunity to connect with students at the middle school and high school level, and again, let them know that we’re here to support them having gone through that path ourselves and be open to partnership and mentorship,” Ortega said.
Billings said they want to enable students to learn about various programs from middle school all the way to residency and give them the information and knowledge to allow them to be successful. He added that Texas Tech has the Family Medicine Accelerated Track that allows students to finish that field of medicine in three years.
“The whole idea, too, is that we want to retain them in the area from high school graduation to university. They can go anywhere, but if we can retain them at UTPB, Odessa College, Texas Tech or Sul Ross we keep them connected to West Texas. Then they can go to medical school in West Texas and then they can do their residency program in West Texas, so we don’t have a brain drain. We don’t lose them to an outside area,” Billings said.
Research shows that if you can train and recruit someone in their hometown area, the likelihood of keeping them for a long time, if not an entire career, is much more possible.
Ortega, who is from Midland, did his training locally. He noted that you don’t have to have someone in your family that is a medical doctor to become one yourself.
“We just want to point students to the fact that that’s possible. Like Dr. Billings was saying, you can do all of this training and not leave home. … We know that these students are potentially committing to being lifelong learners and there are challenges to that. So having the support of family and friends not too far off, having the support of like-minded individuals who are practicing and living in our hometowns is incredibly important,” Ortega said.
Nisabella Karais, an 18-year-old George H.W. Bush New Tech Odessa senior, said the event was really cool. She said she would like to go into biomedical engineering and make prosthetics, but if that doesn’t work out she’s also taking an EMT course right now at Odessa College and would likely pursue that.
“It’s a great way to be exposed to different fields in healthcare or health sciences. … which I think is really great for students. That way you get to college and you’re not wasting a whole bunch of money switching degrees. … ” Karais said.
She added that the fair was a great way to introduce students to healthcare.
“You’re always going to have a job, regardless of where you go,” Karais said.