Students walk a day in the shoes of Dena’ina Wellness Center employees
“Do what you love.”
“Keep your grades up.”
Those were a just a few of the nuggets of advice employees at the Dena’ina Wellness Center recently offered to a group of young, aspiring medical professionals.
In March, the tribe participated in a job-shadow event organized by Kenai Central High School and the Kenai Chamber of Commerce. More than 120 students visited area businesses and organizations to receive useful tips and on-the-job training. Ten of those students, all 11th-graders, visited the Dena’ina Wellness Center.
Participants toured the facility, met employees and had an opportunity to ask questions. The students’ career interests ranged from physician assistant to clinical psychologist to surgical technician to nurse practitioner, and more.
“Not only do we want to educate our un’ina (those who come to us), but also anyone who is interested in our programs, so it’s good to participate in this,” said Dr. John Molina, Director of Health Systems.
The students participated in a range of activities during their visit. Some spent time in the Traditional Healing area. Others toured the Primary Care area. One visited the Behavioral Health Department.
Cassidy Holmes, who has pondered different career paths but ultimately sees herself in the medical field, said the visited helped her realize the vast number of paths available in the health industry.
Before the job-shadow event, Holmes was most interested in becoming a physician assistant. Afterward, realizing the different available options, she wasn’t as certain.
“The biggest thing that jumped out was all the different career fields that are in medical,” Holmes said. “I wasn’t aware of all those different fields.”
Abby Beck, who is interested in the behavioral sciences, spent part of the day shadowing a clinical psychologist.
Beck said she received valuable advice and useful information about the industry, including local contacts and suggested reading material.
What stood out to Beck most, however, was the reception she received from tribal employees.
“It was really nice that they were so welcoming and friendly,” Beck said. “I was really nervous that it was going to be a stiff, awkward environment and it really wasn’t. They made me feel like I was supposed to be here.”
Meanwhile, Emily Halstead said the event helped her better understand the education and training required in the medical field.
Halstead envisioned being a surgeon before participating in the job-shadow event, but by the time it ended, she also was interested in becoming an oncologist or surgery technician.
“There’s all these different occupations I can pick in the medical field that I wouldn’t have thought of,” she said.
The chamber and high school began putting on the event in 1994, and it continues to grow.
Chamber President Johna Beech said 52 business participated this year and that everyone involved took away something useful.
“It showcases our employment opportunities here in the Kenai and Soldotna area,” Beech said. “It also helps the students decide if this truly is the career for them.”
Molina, who shared his career path and offered tips and advice, said he hoped the event gave students a sense of the human element of health care.
For Halstead, the sentiment rang clear.
“It was amazing to see how health care providers see people, and seeing the love they have for the tribe and the Dena’ina,” Halstead said. “It was just really neat to see.”