Tying up surgical gowns, putting on gloves, steady hands stitching. No, this isn’t a doctor preparing for surgery. Instead, it’s a group of more than 80 middle school students who are learning about career options in the health care field.

The UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Center for Rural Health are hosting 84 middle school students from around the region in hopes those students will someday help fill much-needed positions across the medical field.

The med school has been hosting the Scrubs Academy, a four-day/three-night camp held on the UND campus, for nine years. The academy lets students talk to medical professionals to learn about topics ranging from cardiology and veterinary medicine to music therapy and neuroscience.

The need for programs, such as Scrubs Academy, is becoming more prevalent as an on-going health care workforce shortage continues.

Kylie Nissen said the middle school age is the best age for the program because students will soon get to pick the classes that could help mold their future careers. For example, if a student decides to be a pharmacist one day then planning to take an extra science class in high school may set the stage for success in college.

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“It’s our intent with this to get students interested in health care at an early age so they can start planning and grow that passion for it,” Nissen said.

According to an October North Dakota Workforce Development Council summary report, a shortage of nurses has existed to some extent for more than 25 years.

“The retirement of baby boomers, the aging population and the associated increase in health care needs of our nation’s largest generation has intensified the issue, leading to the need for more nurses and supporting healthcare workers across the state,” the report stated.

The rural North Dakota landscape makes this shortage particularly acute due to the limited program capacity and distance. Around 35% of all North Dakotans live in a primary health care professional shortage area with 19 counties having critical numbers of RNs/APRN’s in 2016, according to the report.

According to the 2015-16 Annual Report from the North Dakota Board of Nursing, the number of registered nurses in North Dakota has increased 13% over the past five years. However, there remains a significant gap between the number of nurses licensed in North Dakota and the statewide need for a highly skilled nursing workforce as nursing jobs are expected to continue to grow through 2026, the council report stated.

Elysis Meberg Ewald, 14, will be attending Century High School next year. This is her second year attending the academy.

“I knew I wanted to do some sort of job in the health care field, so I decided to give (the academy) a shot last year and it helped me finally realize what branch I wanted to go into, and I decided family physician last year,” she said.

Bella Johnson, 12, will be attending Roseau High School this fall. This is her first year attending the Scrubs Academy. She said she decided to check out the academy because she hoped it would help her figure out what medical field she would like to work in one day.

“I decided to come and check it out because I thought it would be fun and would help me expand my horizons for the medical field,” Johnson said.

Johnson said she has enjoyed the hands-on project she has done thus far, including getting to look at the inside of a heart. She said she will take the knowledge she learns here and carry it to projects she does in 4-H and school.