University of Vermont

College of Medicine

Vermont AHECs' MedQuest Links Teens to Medicine

Middlebury Union High School student Rebekah Oler (right) with Fletcher Allen CT Technician Taunya Perron
Middlebury Union High School student Rebekah Oler (right) with Fletcher Allen CT Technician Taunya Perron during the Champlain Valley AHEC’s first MedQuest session, the week of June 26, 2011. (Photo: Raj Chawla/UVM Medical Photography)

What do you get when you bring motivated Vermont high school students to a college campus and connect them with willing-to-teach health care professionals across the region for a week? MedQuest – a program offered through Vermont’s Area Health Education Centers (AHECs) that offers teens an unparalleled opportunity to immerse themselves in the health care field, shadowing and observing providers in a variety of settings.

Each summer, the state’s three AHECs – Champlain Valley in St. Albans, Southern Vermont in Springfield, and Northeastern Vermont in St. Johnsbury – run MedQuest Career Exploration Programs in conjunction with hospitals across the state. High school sophomores and juniors are invited to apply to attend one of the programs each spring.

This summer, one Advanced MedQuest and two MedQuest sessions were held on the University of Vermont campus. Second-year UVM medical student Heather Lutton served as an assistant director for both MedQuest sessions.

“I am so impressed by the immense drive of these students to explore, inquire, and inform themselves about the health care field,” says Lutton, who grew up in Vermont, but was unaware of the program while in high school. She describes MedQuest as “an invaluable opportunity.” Students both gain exposure to a diverse selection of health career options and get to participate in “an interactive environment that fosters the critical thinking skills that are paramount in a medical career,” says Lutton.

Jocie Mueller, Champlain Valley AHEC’s new health care careers coordinator, experienced MedQuest for the first time the week of July 11. “The students were a wonderful mix from high schools around the Champlain Valley, including Mississquoi Valley Union, Mount Abraham, South Burlington, Burlington, Enosburg Falls, Champlain Valley Union, Richford, Mount Mansfield Union, Fair Haven, BFA Fairfax, Essex, BFA St. Albans, Rice, and even some home- schooled students,” she says.

Students in the Champlain Valley AHEC MedQuest and Southern Vermont AHEC Advanced MedQuest lived in UVM dorms, which Mueller says, “helps them get a taste for what college life would be like.” Functioning as camp counselors, second-year medical students initiate excitement about the field of healthcare among the campers. Agnes Balla, Vincent Kan, and Vanessa Patten assisted Lutton with the first Champlain Valley AHEC MedQuest; Leah Carr, Chelsea Harris and Jerry Lee assisted with the second session.

“As a group, students learn about things like infection control, pathology, preparing for college, medical ethics, basic medical skills, CPR, nursing dynamics, and cultural competency,” says Mueller.  In addition, she says, students learn on a one-on-one basis during job shadows with health professionals at each of these hospitals: Porter Medical Center in Middlebury, Northwestern Medical Center in St. Albans, and Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington.

Gaining a “sneak peak” of the world of a health care professional comes with requirements. Students must maintain respect for patient confidentiality and exhibit professionalism during their health care career explorations. The effort is worth it. Extra bonuses – like watching two live surgeries via telemedicine, teambuilding activities, barbeques and ice cream – make the experience extra-special and sometimes, leave students wanting more. 

Advanced MedQuest, led June 19 to 24 by Southern Vermont AHEC Health Care Careers Coordinator Marty Hammond, with support from second-year medical students Timothy Snow and Bianca Yoo, targets alumni of the MedQuest program interested in a more intensive experience. This year's 14 participants, who lived in UVM’s Converse Hall during the program, hailed from these high schools: Mill River, Green Mountain, Mount St. Joseph, Brattleboro Union, Proctor, Burr & Burton, Black River, Whitcomb, Windsor, Rutland, Otter Valley and Springfield. In addition to job shadowing, the students participated in workshops at Fletcher Allen and the Colleges of Medicine and Nursing and Health Sciences.

MedQuest programs were held at UVM June 26 to July 1 and July 10 to 15 by Champlain Valley AHEC; July 10 to 15 at Southern Vermont College by Southern Vermont AHEC and July 17 to 22 at Lyndon State College by Northeastern Vermont AHEC. Southern Vermont AHEC held its second session of MedQuest July 31 to August 5 at the School for International Training. For more information about MedQuest, visit one of the following Vermont AHEC websites: www.cvahec.org , www.nevahec.org or www.svahec.org.