Stephanie Gliko, 17, and her four companions raced to get their bright yellow hazardous-materials suits on over their tie-dyed T-shirts before carefully navigating a South Side parking lot.
The five teenage girls took turns gearing up — donning gloves, the suits, boots, heavier gloves and breathing masks before sealing the sleeves and pant legs with duct tape — weaving around a course at RiverStone Health, 123 S. 27th St., and then helping each other out of the suits.
The exercise was part of the second annual MedStart Billings Summer Camp, which runs June 24-29 and brought in juniors and seniors from high schools around Montana for an up-close and hands-on lesson in health careers.
"We came here to learn more about health professions and everything that goes into them," said Gliko, who traveled nearly six hours from Sunburst to attend. "I'm interested in the medical field, so this is important to me."
Sponsored by the Eastern Montana Area Health Education Center (AHEC) at RiverStone, MedStart exposes the students to myriad careers, from working in surgery or pediatrics to community health management or emergency preparedness.
By the end of the week they'll have, among other things, spent days at Billings Clinic, St. Vincent Healthcare, RiverStone, the Rocky Mountain College physician's assistant program, the Montana State University Billings College of Technology and at a mock rescue with Beartooth Billings Clinic and Carbon County Search and Rescue in the Red Lodge area.
"We are all about all of those students who are interested in health careers and our purpose is to get them more interested," said Mary Helgeson, AHEC program coordinator. "The big expectation is that they'll go into some kind of health care career and that they'll choose to do that here."
Cass Staton, AHEC's outreach coordinator, said that it's especially tough to get such professionals to stay in-state and in rural areas so it's important to inspire more youth to pursue a career in health care.
On Tuesday, the students spent the day at RiverStone, learning about health fields that apply to larger groups of people. They took short seminars on community, population, environmental and family health and participated in simulator labs and the mock hazmat drill.
At the drill, Stephanie and four other girls learned about how RiverStone would respond to a hazmat incident, as well as population health efforts such as anti-smoking campaigns.
She said she's interested in becoming a neonatal nurse and is looking forward to a planned job shadow this week. It's allowed her to rule out some careers in health care she'd considered while opening her up to more about what she wants to do.
"If I hadn't come here, I wouldn't be able to see as deep into this field as I have," she said.