When the COVID-19 pandemic ends, a few lessons learned may carry into the post pandemic era. One of those is the surprising way the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital Medical Explorer program transitioned from a successful campus-based program to a national online learning opportunity.
Medical Explorers is offered by the St. Petersburg, Florida, hospital to teens in grades 10–12, with an interest in learning more about careers in the health care field. Started in 1996, the program has been a staple at the hospital, coordinated by the Volunteer Resources Department.
The program provides participants with a one-on-one learning opportunity with hospital physicians, nurses and other health care professionals who share their job experiences and offer a behind-the-scenes look at medical specialties.
“When we went into lockdown last year, we had to make a fast decision about our 2020-2021 program,” says Ranetta Sumner, volunteer coordinator, one of the staff members who organizes the Medical Explorer program. “We knew we were not going to be able to meet together in the fall, but little did we know what opportunities that would open up.”
“We put the application process and the virtual meeting dates on the hospital’s web page,” says Angie Kaczor, volunteer coordinator, who works with Sumner to administer the program. “We were surprised when we started to get applications from students from out of the St. Petersburg area who saw the hospital web page and wanted to participate in the program. We thought, it’s virtual, so why not accept them? We ended up with students joining our program from California, Virginia, Maryland and New York.”
“After completing the application process, we initially accepted 34 students, locally and nationally, but 31 completed the process,” Sumner says. “The Medical Explorer officers met online before each general meeting to discuss speakers and programs. They quickly learned how to make the meetings virtual. It was so impressive. They did a great job. One of our programs about occupational and physical therapy ended up as a virtual tour of their facility. That was impressive.
“Other programs included speakers from, trauma, pharmacy, speech, palliative care and cardiology,” Sumner continues. “We thought the interaction between the explorers and the presenters was as good as a live presentation.”
One of the speakers was Laura Drach, D.O., division chief for the pediatric palliative care program at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.
“When I was in high school, I came to All Children’s and visited the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit," she says. “I was amazed and knew after my visit that I wanted to go into the medical field. I am not sure if I would have chosen the medical field if I had not had the opportunity to speak to someone who worked at the hospital.
“With COVID- 19, we have had to think of creative ways to reach out to our learners. Thankfully technology has allowed us to reach out not only to our patients, but our students. Technology has helped us to remain connected even in the most challenging of times. The virtual platform seemed second nature to our Medical Explorers. They were very engaged and interested during our discussion. They asked great questions about my profession as well as other professions that work in a hospital setting.”
What are the plans for fall 2021? “We will definitely be virtual again for the coming year,” Sumner says. “We were very happy with the outcome of the program this past year. Over 80% of our participants met the attendance requirements, missing no more than three meetings."