WORLAND — Patients in the physical therapy pool usually don’t splash assistant therapist Lisa Fernandez.
But when Fernandez turned on the big jet, Anthony Eibert, 13, and Justin Roussan, 14, couldn’t resist making waves. Fernandez clung to the wall, laughing, while Eibert, Roussan and two other Camp Healthcare campers enjoyed one more minute in the pool.
“Awesome” and “cool” could be heard from the kids as they walked down the hall to towel off in the rehabilitation center at Banner Health Washakie Medical Center.
Once dry and clothed in royal blue scrubs with ID badges, they walked across the hospital parking lot to the family practice center to practice bandaging fake burns and lacerations.
Physicians might run on “doctor time” — about 10 minutes late — but Camp Healthcare followed a strict schedule.
The second annual three-day camp introduced soon-to-be eighth-graders to various medical professions available in community hospitals. Campers explained their interest in health care in an application to attend the free camp.
Growing up in Basin and Manderson, these kids see Worland as the big city, but they want to leave the area for college. Some said they’ll come back to Wyoming, to the Big Horn Basin, to work. Others said they weren’t so sure.
Washakie health officials started Camp Healthcare to show students they could have careers in medicine back home. They hope the experience encourages campers to enroll in classes that will support future education in the health field.
Washakie County has been designated a health professional shortage area by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Several counties rank above Washakie in need. Sweetwater and Carbon counties are No. 1 and 2, according to the state Office of Rural Health. Sweetwater County employed the full-time equivalent of 9.8 physicians for about 40,000 people at last count.
“When you have less than 10 physicians for that you’re not meeting the needs of the community,” said Jeff Hopkins, department health care recruitment and workforce specialist.
Hopkins said a health professional shortage can be lethal if it prevents patients from receiving care in the first hour following a traumatic injury.
The office conducted the first-ever count of Wyoming physicians last year and recommended changes to retain health professionals. The state funds several programs, such as repaying student loans, to encourage health care professionals to come and stay.
However, recruitment and retention still challenge small Wyoming communities. Hopkins said health care professionals have flown to Wyoming only to have their spouses refuse to get off the plane.
“There are things in our community that doctors want to work there,” Hopkins said. “They want to serve in those areas, but they don’t want their families to live there or the community doesn’t have enough to support them.”
Camp Healthcare campers learned how to dress burns from a Casper College alumna and talked with a family practice doctor who grew up in Meeteetse. When campers found out how much school is required for many health care jobs, they weren’t scared.
“It’s worth it to help people,” Eibert said.
By Friday, campers amassed several pins to attach to their scrubs.
A skull and crossbones — ultrasound of a pregnant physician volunteer. A dolphin — pool therapy. “Bee healthy” — bacteria swabbing in the lab.
They earned paper diplomas Friday afternoon, after scoping a watermelon for gummy bears and studying cultures of the bacteria from Eibert’s shoe.
All said they wanted to work in the medical field, but some changed their minds during the week about which job they want to pursue.
Eibert, of Basin, said he wanted to work as a physical therapist. He built a summer workout schedule and has been training himself, running five miles some days. He said training isn’t as much fun by yourself.
Hospital employees praised Eibert for suturing a chicken thigh with amazing detail and beautiful knots.
Surgery wasn’t hard, Eibert said, but would be if the patient were alive and the conditions were more stressful.
All agreed that walking around the hospital, talking with nurses and doctors and using medical equipment were much more fun than playing video games, napping and yes, even swimming at the pool.
“We get to do stuff no one else gets to do,” said Roussan, who lives in Basin.
Roussan wants to be a nurse because the job is more flexible. He said he’d rather work in a small hospital than a larger one — a small town is what he knows.