University of Vermont

MedQuest Introduces Vermont High School Students to Health Care Careers

Caption: Katherine Wang ’17 demonstrates abdominal exam techniques with high school student Caroline Provost during MedQuest at the UVM College of Medicine. Fellow MedQuest participants Madison Feeney and Matthew Chagnon look on with Champlain Valley AHEC Intern Emily Carver (center).
Caption: Katherine Wang ’17 demonstrates abdominal exam techniques with high school student Caroline Provost during MedQuest at the UVM College of Medicine. Fellow MedQuest participants Madison Feeney and Matthew Chagnon look on with Champlain Valley AHEC Intern Emily Carver (center). (Photo: UVM Medical Photography)

High school students from across the state of Vermont are getting a head start on exploring health care careers thanks to the MedQuest program and 16 University of Vermont College of Medicine students who are serving as assistant directors.

Sponsored by the UVM Office of Primary Care and the Area Health Education Centers (AHEC), MedQuest is a college campus-based experience that invites students to dive into the health care field while getting used to a college setting. This year, 100 students have participated in one-week programs organized by the three Vermont AHEC locations: Champlain Valley in St. Albans, which serves Addison, Chittenden, Franklin, and  Grand Isle counties; Southern Vermont in Springfield, which covers Windham, Windsor, Bennington, and Rutland counties; and Northeastern Vermont in St. Johnsbury, serving Caledonia, Essex, Orleans, Lamoille, Washington and Orange counties. Twenty additional students participated in Advanced MedQuest June 15-20, which is geared towards students who have previously participated in a MedQuest week and are seeking additional experience.

Medical students serve as assistant directors at all of the locations; this year, three College of Medicine students and one nurse practitioner student – Katie Colelli ’17, Andy Liu ’17, Kathryn Wang ’17 and Jessica Morrison – hosted two different MedQuest groups on the UVM campus through the Champlain Valley AHEC.

MedQuest participants live on campus in dorms, complete job shadows and a range of workshops, and come away from the week with insight into health career options as well as leadership experience and new problem solving skills.

“Each of the programs are a little different, as resources and student interests vary,” says Jessica Barrow, Champlain Valley AHEC Health Careers Educator. “This year at Champlain Valley AHEC MedQuest we have incorporated a pharmacy workshop in partnership with [Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences]. We have also added a dental workshop during which the students experience the dental simulator, interact with dental professionals, and have lab experience.”

And there are learning opportunities for medical students as well: They hone their teaching skills and make connections with students who are eager for mentors.

Katie Colelli ’17 says it is exciting to see students expand their horizons over the course of the week. “A lot of them come in with what they want to do [for a career] set,” she says. “Then some of them go on the job shadow and realize it isn’t for them.” Some learn about entirely new occupations – like physical therapist or pharmacist – that they had not considered. These moments of discovery can be exciting for both the students and the counselors.

“It’s so much fun when they come back [from a job shadow] and they can’t stop talking about it,” Colelli laughs.

Katherine Wang ’17 says she appreciates the opportunity “to be part of that journey” as students start thinking about life after high school, and in some cases leave home for a week for the first time.

“It’s really cool that high schoolers get the chance to explore,” she says. “There are so many options.”

It’s also a chance to give back. Andy Liu ’17 says opportunities he had to shadow doctors before deciding on medical school proved to be invaluable. Serving as a MedQuest leader is a way to “return the favor and spark some interest.” 

The assistant directors for the Champlain Valley AHEC MedQuest lead evening workshops, including one on basic medical skills where students learn how to take blood pressure, use a stethoscope, check for reflexes, and complete a basic abdominal exam. A different workshop mimics the effects of aging in preparation for a nursing home visit the next day. Students wear earplugs and then play a game of telephone to simulate hearing problems; they tape joints to feel what it’s like to have arthritis or limited mobility. Other activities include CPR training, a visit with the Essex Rescue squad, a workshop in the pathology lab at the College of Medicine, and a screening of the documentary film “Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Health Care.” The last day features a “telemedicine surgery” hosted by Edward Borrazzo, M.D., UVM associate professor of surgery. Student watch the surgery live via videoconferencing in the Sullivan Classroom, and can ask questions at the end. The program culminates with a celebration that invites families to see what students have accomplished during the week.

Based at the UVM College of Medicine, the Vermont AHEC Program collaborates with partners across the state to improve access to health care through a focus on workforce development. This includes pipeline programs in health careers awareness and exploration for youth in communities across the state; support for and engagement of health professions students at the University of Vermont and residents at Fletcher Allen Health Care; and programs designed to recruit and retain the healthcare workforce in Vermont.

Learn more about the Office of Primary Care and AHEC Program at UVM.