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Medical Explorers gives high school students immersive experience

March 15, 2024 

According to a report by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the United States could see an estimated shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034. This includes shortages in both primary care physicians and specialists.

To help interest local high school students in pursuing medical careers, a new program was launched in December hosted by HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital Highland. Twenty-eight students from Highland and Wesclin High Schools participated in the inaugural Medical Explorers event Dec. 6 at St. Joseph’s Hospital. 

The immersive experience gave the students hands-on experience with medical techniques used by physicians in various specialties. Three local physicians from HSHS Medical Group volunteered their time to instruct the students: Dr. Jose Diaz, general surgeon; Dr. David Neighbors, family medicine (retired); and Dr. Robert Schaefer, family medicine. The students learned about common musculoskeletal sports injuries and practiced wrapping techniques as well as had the opportunity to suture pigs’ feet.

The Medical Explorers program is part of the Health Care Career Exploring program through Greater St. Louis Area Boy Scouts, a mentorship program that helps students with an interest in learning more about careers in health care fields. The Medical Explorers program is held twice a semester on a Saturday or weeknight for a couple of hours, with different topics each time led by doctors, nurses and other medical personnel to expose the students to a variety of careers. 

In southern Illinois, the Medical Explorers program began in 2018 at HSHS St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in O’Fallon with the Collinsville and Edwardsville High Schools. Since then, it has spread to schools throughout the Metro East area. Currently, there are Medical Explorers programs in partnership with Belleville Althoff Catholic High School, Belleville West and East High Schools, Collinsville High School, Edwardsville High School, Fr. McGivney Catholic High School in Glen Carbon, Governor French Academy in Belleville, Maryville Christian High School, O’Fallon High School, and Triad High School in Troy, with Highland and Wesclin High Schools being the newest additions. The program partners with the local hospital in each area to host the program.

The program is a passion of Dr. Bob Farmer, who helped launch the first southern Illinois program at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in 2018. He drew his inspiration from retired surgeon Dr. Morris Kugler, who had the vision for a medical explorers’ program and was instrumental in getting the program off the ground in the Metro East area. Dr. Framer continues to play a key role in coordinating and launching new programs throughout the region in partnership with Metro East Scouting program director, Julie Monken. 

A Highland native, Monken desired to introduce the program to Highland High School, which led to the recent inaugural program in Highland. Dr. David Neighbors, who volunteers at Wesclin High School as a teacher and coach, brought in Wesclin to participate as well.

Dr. Farmer shared how students are selected to participate in the program. “It truly is a joint effort with the local schools. School counselors and science teachers help identify juniors or seniors that have an interest in the sciences and would be a good fit for the program. They work with the students to get them signed up for the program through the Scouts,” he explained. “Likewise, this is a partnership with area hospitals and medical staffs. At each location, the medical staff members have donated money to fund the program, whether by providing the medical supplies, equipment or paying for any Scouting registration fees for students who may want to participate but are unable to afford it. They all have been extremely generous,” he shared.

Besides exposing students to health care careers, the Medical Explorers also introduces the students to the local health care facilities and staff members. Dr. Farmer said, “By mentoring the students at a young age and introducing them to the possibilities of a health care career, we hope some might pursue the sciences in college and continue in the medical/nursing field or get a technical degree as a phlebotomist or radiology tech, and then return home to practice and care for their family and friends. Regardless of where they pursue a health care career, they are still helping others.”

For more information about the Medical Explorers program, contact Julie Monken, Metro East Scouting program director, at Julie.Monken@scouting.org.

Photo Caption: Students from Highland and Wesclin High Schools who participated in the inaugural Medical Explorers program pose in the lobby at HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital Highland. HSHS Medical Group physicians who led the students included Dr. Jose Diaz, general surgeon; Dr. David Neighbors, family medicine (retired); and Dr. Robert Schaefer, family medicine.
Medical Explorers gives high school students immersive experience
Media Contact

Ashley Gramann

HSHS Illinois Communications Manager