Whitney Harris stood at a table with friends, holding a blood-red animal lung in her gloved hands.
The John Marshall High School senior listened to a respiratory therapist explain how the heart and lungs work.
Harris looked less grossed-out than her friends, a good thing since she is interested in possibly pursuing a career in health care.
“It interests me how the body works and how everything goes along with the body and how it functions and what types of technologies are used to care for certain things in the body,” Harris said.
Harris was one of about 600 students from the Oklahoma City metro area who attended a high school health care career fair Friday at Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City.
For most of the afternoon, students mingled around the room, looking at several booths, including an animal heart and lungs at an exhibit about respiratory care, a model of the stomach and digestive tract and a booth about nutrition scattered with fruits and vegetables.
Teresa Featherly, one of the fair's organizers, said events like this help introduce students to fields of medicine and give them a behind-the-scenes look at health care.
“Sometimes it's a very sterile environment, sometimes it's a scary environment, but there's a very human aspect to it, and I think this gives them a different comfort level,” said Featherly, a nurse recruiter at Mercy.
When most people think of jobs in health care, they think of doctors or nurses, she said.
However, there are several opportunities in health care, and presently, the state faces a shortage in some of those job categories, she said.
Oklahoma faces not only a shortage of primary care doctors but also has a lack of occupational therapists and physical therapists, said Jim Durbin, executive director of the Oklahoma Health Care Workforce Center.
One of the issues Oklahoma faces is that colleges that train these types of medical professionals don't have enough space or resources to meet the demand, he said.
And there currently isn't any movement to do anything about it, he said.
“They've been cutting their budgets, not adding to them, because of the state budget issues as well, and so we're trying to keep people aware that these problems exist, but until there's some more resources at the state level to expand that education pipeline, there isn't a whole lot that is going to be done,” he said.
Durbin said students should consider getting a bachelor's degree instead of an associate degree if they can.
More and more hospitals are looking for people with bachelor's degree level training, he said.
“With the Affordable Care Act expanding access to care to tens of thousands more Oklahomans and with the baby boomer group aging, we know that the demand for nurses is going to increase,” he said. “We're just not there yet for a variety of reasons.”
Sometimes it's a very sterile environment, sometimes it's a scary environment, but there's a very human aspect to it, and I think this gives them a different comfort level.”
nurse recruiter at Mercy Hospital