Career exploration2

Jill VanEps (left), radiology manager at Mayo Clinic Health System, runs Lynsey Rohlfing, a senior at Mankato East, through her department. Rohlfing is one of three high schoolers learning at the hospital this semester as part of a career exploration program. Photo by Pat Christman

MANKATO — Mankato East senior Lynsey Rohlfing knows what career she wants to pursue after graduation.

It’s quite a bit like what she’s doing already, thanks to a career exploration partnership between the school district and Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato.

Rohlfing and two other students from East and West have spent their afternoons this semester at the health system, rotating between departments and getting on-site experience shadowing health care professionals.

This is the first semester high schoolers have been able to explore health care fields at Mayo in Mankato — other classmates are matched up with professionals in other fields. Eventually the pilot program could expand into 15 to 20 juniors or seniors coming to Mayo each spring semester, providing students interested in the health care field a firsthand look at what the work entails.

Rohlfing said the program has only fueled her ambition to become a nurse or nurse practitioner someday.

“It’s really beneficial getting to see what I want to do in the future,” she said. “I think it’s made me more interested in the field.”

Not all students experiencing health care fields come away with such renewed confidence.

The program is just as much about showing the students what they don’t want to do in the future, said Mary Klimp, vice chair of administration at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato. Students in a similar program at Mayo in New Prague came away knowing they absolutely did not want to enter a health care field.

“When they talk to other staff and see that there’s sacrifices to be a health-care worker, sometimes it takes the appeal out of it,” she said.

Finding this out sooner rather than later keeps families from pouring money into college classes the student won’t end up using.

“I think ‘You just saved your parents a ton of money,’” Klimp said.

The students are introduced to a wide range of departments through lectures and hands-on training throughout the semester. One week they’re stationed in the pharmacy, another they’ll shadow physical and occupational therapists. They get experience in social services, dietary departments and the cancer center. Rohlfing said the cancer center was one of the rotations she most enjoyed.

The students wear different color scrubs than the pros, but would otherwise blend in. Any patients they work with are told ahead of time and give an OK for the student to be there. Confidentiality is among the first lessons the students learn when the semester starts, Klimp said.

“These kids take it incredibly seriously, and I think it’s important for the program and important for the public to know also,” she said.

Radiology Manager Jill VanEps led Rohlfing through an overview of her department on Wednesday, introducing her to staff prepping MRIs and ultrasounds. The students only have about four days in each department, but remember, these are high school students. Track meets, snow days or other academic happenings might take them away from their rotations for a day.

Rohlfing said she enjoys balancing high-school life and real-world experience, as she knows the shadowing will aid her in her career.

Her career might even start in Mankato. Klimp said the real success of the program will be shown when one of the high schoolers in the program later goes on to apply for a job as an RN, doctor, lab tech or other position at the hospital.

“It will be a happy day,” she said. “It’s one of the why’s that we’re doing this.”

Rohlfing plans to start in Minnesota State University’s nursing school this fall. She said her interest in the field has only been affirmed by seeing all the different paths available to her in health care.

“Especially seeing all the things that are possible working in the hospital, I’m even more interested in it,” she said.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArolaMFP.

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