From researchers and nurses to pharmacy staff and a postdoctoral fellow, more than 35 St. Jude volunteers opened the door to health care career possibilities for local eighth graders during the recent Junior Achievement of Memphis and the Mid-South's Inspire Expo at Agricenter International.
More than 1,400 students from 25 area schools participated in the May 17-19 program, which was made possible with support from St. Jude Nursing Professional Development; STEMM Education and Outreach • HPV Cancer Prevention; Strategic Communication, Education and Outreach (SCEO); Campus Operations; Human Resources; Information Services and Materials Management.
"When we consider the future of science and medicine, we must also think of who will serve as the next generation of researchers, doctors, nurses and other professionals," said James R. Downing, MD, St. Jude president and chief executive officer. "Opportunities such as these allow us to introduce the idea of careers in STEM and spark new interests early in the lives of children. The JA Inspire Expo is a fitting addition to the institution's efforts to strengthen career pipelines in research and health care."
I think it's really important to show teenagers what career opportunities exist after high school or college, and the JA Inspire Expo gave us at St. Jude an opportunity to showcase what all our institution has to offer.
Melissa Mullady, SCEO's manager of collaborative projects and analytics, helped coordinate the St. Jude booth at the event, where students learned about industries and fast-growing, high-demand careers available in the region.
"This was a success on all fronts. We had great collaboration across the institution, formed new partnerships and most importantly engaged students," she said. "We are grateful for the core team and volunteers who graciously gave their time and energy to make this an enjoyable and memorable learning experience for the students."
St. Jude staff volunteered in shifts and led students through activities in an interactive research lab and patient room. In the research lab, students viewed slides under a microscope, learned how to use a pipette and took lab coat selfies in a St. Jude-themed photo booth setting.
In the patient room area of the St. Jude booth, students learned how to take blood pressure, raced their peers in an ambulance game driven by chest compressions, listened to lung sounds and wrote notes of encouragement to St. Jude patients.
"I think it's really important to show teenagers what career opportunities exist after high school or college, and the JA Inspire Expo gave us at St. Jude an opportunity to showcase what all our institution has to offer," said volunteer Tarun Aurora, MD, clinical MD fellow, Oncology. "We do incredible work at St. Jude, and it's important to connect and share that with the local community."
Mandi Dodson, RN, nursing professional development specialist – ICU and Simulation, said she too was excited to volunteer.
"Kids at that age are so fun to talk to," she said. "I have previous experience with the onboarding of our Volunteens here at St. Jude, so I had ideas of how we could use some of the simulation equipment we have to highlight clinical roles in a way that would be fun and engaging for the kids."
Dodson said she enjoyed the teaching moments as students participated in the CPR race game at the St. Jude booth.
"We talked about how everyone on the clinical side of St. Jude is trained to give CPR, and we gave the kids a quick tutorial on how to provide chest compressions, and then they had to perform those skills on mannequins. The better compressions they did, the faster their ambulance moved toward the finish line," she explained. "We definitely had a lot of engagement and excitement with this activity since it was like a video game. This also allowed us to spark conversation about all the important work nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists and others do like providing CPR when needed."
Two "lightbulb" moments stuck out for Dodson during her interactions with the students. A group of young girls asked about the time commitment and schooling required to become a nurse. Dodson explained that they could take certification courses in high school to become certified nursing assistants.
"By doing this, they can work in a hospital setting, and if they decide to continue their education, many hospitals—St. Jude specifically—have programs where they can receive tuition assistance for furthering their education," Dodson said. "Just like we here at St. Jude don't turn down patients based on their ability to pay for health care, I did not want any of these young ladies limiting their dreams of becoming nurses based on inability to pay for schooling."
I would encourage colleagues to volunteer because it was fun interacting with the kids and to see how excited they were to see all the fun things we do. It was rewarding to think I might have made even the smallest impact on one of the student's lives.
The second "lightbulb" moment came for Dodson while speaking with a young boy. She asked if he was interested in the medical field when he was older. He shook his head no, so she asked him what he would like to do when he grew up. He replied that he wanted to be a schoolteacher.
"I told him that we actually have schoolteachers employed at St. Jude to help the patients and told him all about our School Program. His whole face lit up and he was like, "Really?! That's so cool!" Dodson said. "It was neat to talk about how there are so many opportunities to work at St. Jude."
Aurora also enjoyed answering students' questions about resources at St. Jude. He explained that the institution has an array of employment options, from direct medical care to research to administration. He appreciated the students' curiosity about the specialized tools that St. Jude clinicians and researchers use in their work, including mannequins, stethoscopes and laboratory equipment.
"There was a spark with two students who timidly came up to the booth. We walked them through all of our activities, and they seemed most excited about looking at blood smears under the microscope," Aurora said. "It was incredibly fun showing the life of a doctor and nurse to eighth grade students, and it was nice to provide them with information about how to pursue a career in the medical field."
Like Aurora, Dodson believes taking the time to invest in young people's lives is important. Showing students that someone cares about their future and encouraging them to go after their dreams can have long-lasting impact. Dodson enjoyed the volunteer experience so much that she already has ideas of how the St. Jude team can do even more next year.
"I would encourage colleagues to volunteer because it was fun interacting with the kids and to see how excited they were to see all the fun things we do. It was rewarding to think I might have made even the smallest impact on one of the student's lives," she said. "Who knows—in 10 years, they might be working right beside us!"