Teenagers will swab blood from car bumpers, collect DNA samples, take X-rays and perform CPR. There's no archery or hiking at this camp.
In about two weeks, Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington County will host its second annual Camp Med, two week-long sessions for about 40 students in middle school. The free camp aims to attract a combination of lower- and middle-income students who were referred to the program or encouraged to apply by guidance counselors. This year, the camp has expanded and added a twist: a firsthand, full-day simulation of how hospitals respond to a car crash.
By holding the camp, Virginia Hospital Center is joining a small but growing number of health care facilities in Northern Virginia that are attempting to spark interest among teenagers in health care careers, including nursing, respiratory therapy and radiologic technology. Growing concern over the shortage of health care workers in Virginia prompted the camps, coordinators said.
Other programs in the area are held at Potomac Hospital in Woodbridge, Culpeper Regional Hospital, Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg and at Inova Fairfax, Alexandria, Mount Vernon and Fair Oaks hospitals.
"It's a recruitment effort, because a lot of studies have shown that kids in late high school have already decided what they want to do," said Ashley El-Zein, a nursing research analyst with Inova. "It really is aimed at the nursing shortage."
Last Thursday, a group of hospitals, charitable foundations and schools in Northern Virginia announced a plan to help remedy the problem. It's a four-year, $24.3 million strategy aimed at increasing the number of registered nurses, nursing educators and other health care workers; constructing training facilities; and streamlining nursing workloads with new technology.
The group also released a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers that estimates a shortage of 2,800 health care professionals in Virginia, mostly nurses. That represents 10 percent of the workforce. Unchecked, the shortage could grow to more than 40 percent of the needed workers in Northern Virginia by 2020, as more baby boomers require care, the study says.
"Logistically, we're never going to fulfill the demand," said Brenda Nevidjon, a clinical professor at the Duke University School of Nursing who has studied the issue.
Barbara Brown, vice president of the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association, said the group partially funds 11 camps in the state, up from six three years ago, when it started to fund such programs.
To get students interested, "lecturing doesn't work," Brown said. "They need to be in an environment where they can be noisy for part of the time or quiet for part of the time."
The Virginia Hospital Center camp, half funded by the trade group, will include two days at Northern Virginia Community College for crash simulation and three days at the hospital. At NVCC, students will interact and work with surgeons, police, lab technicians, radiology technologists, nurses and social workers to learn about various health care fields.
"When we see someone in scrubs, we just assume that they're a nurse," said Don Johnson, outreach specialist for NVCC's Medical Education Campus in Springfield. "But there are different professionals."
The teenagers will also learn about alcohol and drug abuse, with actors in the simulation playing the part of drunk drivers.
Connie Ten Eyck, an occupational therapist and assistant director of Virginia Hospital Center's rehabilitation department, said that last year's campers enjoyed making hand splints, primarily for people with arthritis. The splints were custom-made. The students started with a sheet of hard plastic, put it in hot water and molded the flexible material to patients' hands.
"Our goal is to get them excited really about health care in general, but also about helping patients become as independent as possible," Ten Eyck said.
In the three or four hours the campers spend in the rehabilitation department, they also will learn about speech and language therapy.
"We're really trying to promote that there's something for everyone in health care," said Mary Ellen Gannon, director of workforce enhancement and retention at Virginia Hospital Center.
Gannon said the hospital hopes to have more immigrant campers. "I think the larger good is that the kids with perhaps limited means see that there are ways that an immigrant population can choose health care," she said.
Virginia Hospital Center is not the only camp offering hands-on experience. A program at Inova stages a disaster drill in which students don hazmat protective suits, then practice taking them off and checking the scene for radiation. A program at Potomac Hospital, the Discover Nursing Camp, puts participants in an emergency room situation, in which they see how professionals stop bleeding and check airways, learning that it often must all be taken care of at once.
Being a part of hospital scenarios helped Ishmeet Kaur, 15, of Fairfax City, consider a career as a neonatologist, a doctor who works with premature babies. Ishmeet, a rising sophomore, participated in Inova's program in eighth and ninth grades.
"After the camp I really experienced how the nurses and how the physicians work, and what kind of care they have to give, and what kind of moves they have to make," said Ishmeet, who said seeing the neonatology intensive care unit inspired her career choice. She marveled at seeing a live open-heart surgery and Caesarean section.
Most of those programs arose within the past five years, as industry leaders assessed the nursing shortage and saw no end in sight.
"We've had periodic shortages in the past," said Nevidjon, of Duke. But "what we have emerging now is really looking 5, 10, 15, 20 years down the path in terms of what our shortage is going to be."