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Program aims to showcase health care jobs

Osteopathic Foundation of West Michigan connects students with doctors, providing hands-on experience.

January 11, 2019
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The program connects students with doctors and provides hands-on experience to help students decide if medical school is right for them. Courtesy Osteopathic of West Michigan

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Amid an impending shortage of health care workers, a foundation is taking steps to introduce more West Michigan high school students to medical fields.

Osteopathic Foundation of West Michigan is in its third year of a revamped program that connects students in Muskegon, Oceana, Newaygo and northern Ottawa counties with doctors and provides hands-on experience to help them decide if medical school is right for them.

Equipping students with this information is vital for the future of health care, said Andrea Masvero, executive director of the Osteopathic Foundation of West Michigan.

Data released last year by the Association of American Medical Colleges shows the United States could see a shortage of up to 120,000 physicians by 2030.

Masvero said the program serves all students, but there is a particular interest in sharing the information with minority and underserved students.

“Particularly, when you have students from underserved areas, they feel like this is out of reach,” Masvero said.

If someone comes from a household that makes $30,000, for example, they may see completing $300,000 in schooling as an unattainable goal.

“What we try to do is help them see, step by step, how it is possible,” she added.

Students spend one evening each month meeting with volunteer doctors and speakers, who share information about medical school, their medical specialties, doctor earnings and more, and walk them through what a practicing doctor may experience.

There also are sessions on college and medical school applications, covering how to navigate FAFSA and how to write notable admission essays.

The program requires the students to complete readings and tasks to strengthen communication and other skills.

The program includes one school day trip to the Mercy Health Regional Simulation Lab, where students can practice simulated medical procedures.

Masvero said the foundation provides about 12 to 17 scholarships to cover the $1,500 tuition for Michigan State University’s OsteoCHAMPS nine-day health care summer camp, which gives students an idea of what medical school would be like. Students must complete the foundation’s program to be eligible for the scholarships, which are provided based on financial need, recommendations, commitment to the field and other factors.

The foundation has been funding scholarships for the OsteoCHAMPS program since 2003 but would unsuccessfully try engaging with students during the academic year following the summer program. Plus, the MSU program is limited to 60 students, so there is always more interest than the foundation can support.

“We realized we had a lot of the same or similar resources locally, and we could offer a program that would reach more students,” Masvero said.

So, the foundation established the monthly program with a defined curriculum for students to complete before applying for scholarships.

“The bigger objective is to extend the opportunity to more West Michigan students, but we're able then to choose students who are really committed to this career path and the students who are most likely to pursue it all the way through,” Masvero said.

With the new setup, she said students can get more from the MSU program because they begin with more background and understanding of what an osteopathic physician does.

This year, 116 students from 19 school districts were accepted into the program. There were 48 students last year and 30 the year before.

Masvero said students from previous years have returned and told their friends about the program, and the foundation has been reaching out to schools to connect with students who would benefit from the opportunity.

She said she would like to grow the program, but that depends on the number of doctors willing to volunteer their time.

“We were able to accept so many students this year because of those residents who signed up to volunteer,” Masvero said.

Two of those presenters this year include Dr. Justin Grill of Mercy Health and Dr. Benjamin Visger of North Muskegon, one of the first participants of the OsteoCHAMPS program.

Applications for high school sophomores, juniors and seniors to join the program will be available this spring for the next academic year.

Students must have recommendation letters from their schools to participate and must have a minimum GPA of 3.0.

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