New summer camp provides opportunity for Stratford-area students to explore health-care careers

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As demand for workers skyrockets across the province, a Southwestern Ontario medical school has launched a unique opportunity for high school students to explore careers in health care.

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Discovery Healthcare is a week-long summer camp that replaces canoeing and campfires with suturing, wound dressing and other hands-on clinical skills. Led by first- and second-year students from Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, the summer camp also includes talks with a variety of health-care professionals and opportunities for job shadowing.

About 30 students are taking part in a camp organized by Schulich in partnership with the Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance this week.

“There is a need for high-quality health-care workers everywhere,” said Laurie Roberts, the hospital group’s corporate lead, medical staff. “It is important for local students to recognize that there are opportunities to work with dynamic and innovative teams in their own backyard. Programs such as Discovery Healthcare serve the dual purpose of keeping our brightest in the community and provide an opportunity to showcase our amazing teams.”

The fully booked camp in Stratford is running at the same time as a similar one in Chatham organized through the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance.

Both follow Discovery Healthcare camps held last week in Sarnia and Goderich.

“It is always important to foster the development of your next generation,” said Dr. Shanil Narayan, an internal medicine physician and the regional academic director for the Huron-Perth Academy, an education partnership between the regional hospital group and Schulich. “Beyond the opportunity to inspire bright students, there is a renewed positive energy for our staff that comes from working with enthusiastic learners. The program is a demonstrated commitment to our community. It is a commitment to maintaining a high-quality health-care team in the years ahead.”

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Staffing shortages have recently caused temporary emergency room closures in Southwestern Ontario hospitals over the past several weeks, especially in the region’s rural areas.

In a recent Ontario Hospital Association survey, health-care workers leaving the sector cited burnout and stress as the main reasons behind their decisions to find work elsewhere, but officials in Stratford have also pointed out that a human resources crunch has been on the horizon in Ontario since well before the pandemic.

Over the past four years, more than 4,400 staff have retired from the health-care field, with the number of unfilled positions in 2021 increasing 91 per cent from the previous year, according to figures cited by the Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance.

In an industry where one in five staff members is older than the age of 50, health-care officials expect turnover to remain high.

The impact is being felt disproportionately in rural and remote communities, which make up almost 20 per cent of the province’s population. Figures from the Canadian Institute for Health Information show that less than 10 per cent of physicians practise in those areas, though number has been rising since 2013.

Over the next three years, Discovery Healthcare plans to expand summer camps to eight locations across Southwestern Ontario where high school students will be encouraged to consider careers in medicine, nursing, pharmacy, paramedicine, and dentistry.

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