Lake County high school students get hands-on experience at Ronan hospital

One Western Montana program is working to increase the interest in high school students to pursue healthcare related fields as Montana is facing an extreme healthcare work force shortage.

DOL officials estimate there will be up to 1,200 new healthcare job openings in the coming years in the state. 

There are eight counties in Montana that don't have primary care doctors

Vicente Ortega is a junior at Ronan High School. He was one of 50 high school students from Ronan, Arlee and Charlo that got to learn from medical professional at six different departments at St. Luke Community Healthcare. 

"I think it's just such a cool experience," Ortega said. 

He wants to pursue biomedical engineering. Ortega said the field trip experience has opened his eyes. 

"What I learned today is that there are so many smaller branches and how all of it overplays into each other and how it all interacts into one giant system," Ortega said.

He was able to check out St. Luke thanks to the "REACH" program run by the University of Montana. REACH provides opportunities for middle to high school students to get them interested in healthcare. It's the sixth year St. Luke has hosted the program. 

Jasmine Bocksnick works at St. Luke now, and for her, it's come full circle. 

"I attended the reach camp when I was a senior in high school back in 2013. 

As Montana faces an extreme healthcare workforce shortage, Bocksnick is hoping the experience will get students to want to come back and work at St. Luke just like her. 

"Hopefully it will just grow from here," Bocksnick said. 

Ortega said this field trip made him realize the impact the healthcare industry has on Montana communities. 

"From small communities to large communities, just giving [us] insight on what the medical field can do for us and our communities," Ortega said. 

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