Eau Claire (WQOW) - We rely on medical professionals in our darkest times, but your favorite doctor won't work forever. So, how does the next generation get the experience to treat complicated medical conditions?
It's called the Medical Experience Program, started in 2013 by Dr. Jose Ortiz Jr. It's a 10-week program, taking high school students through a variety of different specialties. It could be the perfect foot in the door for teenagers interested in medicine.
Lauren Priem, of Eau Claire, has dreamed of working in the medical field since she was little. Now, going into her senior year at Memorial High School, her dreams are becoming a little more of a reality.
"I am confident in the medical profession," Priem said.
Those aspirations led her to the Medical Experience Program, directed towards juniors in high school, who want to learn more about a career in medicine before they apply for college.
"It's been cool because it's opened up a lot of different fields that I never considered before, so it has closed some doors and opened some new ones which is cool," Priem said.
Students are not allowed to actually work on patients but simply observe doctors as they work.
"It's just giving you a first hand experience of what it's like to be a doctor on a day-to-day basis, and so that's been helpful just to see what your patient interactions are really like and what your daily jobs are," Priem said.
Dr. Ortiz Jr. started the program four years ago. Students are required to volunteer at Mayo Clinic Health System for 30 hours, have good grades in school, a clean background and a desire to make a difference in the lives of others to qualify.
"I could be very selfish and just say that in about 20 years I am going to need a doctor and we're not going to have a lot of them," Dr. Ortiz said. "So, we've got to build that population up."
It's that growing need for qualified medical staff that fueled the idea for the program.
"There has been data collected, in the Wisconsin Hospital Association and other agencies across the country have identified a major physician shortage by 2030," Dr. Ortiz said. "For the state of Wisconsin, that number is at about 2,000 physicians that we're going to be short. So, we've got to increase the number of physicians that we generate, maintain and keep in the state."
Since the program started in 2013, more than 80 students have participated, by following doctors in six different specialties over 10 weeks, including one doctor who wishes a program like this existed when he was younger.
"If they are exposed during their high school time, and have more exposure than just what they see on TV, it gives them a better idea of what to expect," Dr. Guilherme Giusti said.
The program only accepts 20 students a year, and Dr. Ortiz said the application process is similar to applying for college, which he hopes gives students a jump-start on getting into the school of their choice.
He said just by applying, students will know how to create a resume, ask for letters of recommendation and focus on good grades.
If you are interested in learning more about the program, click here.