If you ask a room full of 5th graders what they want to be when they grow up, you’ll get “doctor,” “teacher,” “pro athlete,” and even “taller.” As varied as their responses are, kids’ answers reflect mostly the careers they know about from personal experience. A group of student ambassadors from the School of Health Professions created an innovative game to help broaden younger students’ exposure to the wide variety of careers that comprise modern health care.

SHP students Erin Stump (health sciences, physical therapy), Allan Foster (health sciences, optometry), Julie Hale (health sciences, public health), and Abbey Verslues (physical therapy) developed “Who Cares for Me: A Health Careers Exploration Game” specifically to help younger students explore less common health careers that are valuable contributors to health care teams. Cheri Ghan coordinates the ambassador team and provided the challenge to the students that resulted in the game. “Helping younger students learn about the wide range of health care careers out there lets them begin exploring those,” Ghan said. “As they grow older, that exploration can shape their high school course selections, their shadowing and observation experiences, and helps them imagine themselves in those roles someday.”

In the game, student ambassadors provide a brief introduction to a variety of health careers – everything in the School of Health Professions from applied behavior analyst to athletic trainer to speech pathologist. Then young students roll dice to determine a corresponding health care scenario which is read by the ambassador. Each scenario describes a common interaction between a young person and a health care professional, and participants must choose which provider the scenario is referring to.  When the students answer correctly, they win a prize.

Stump, the game’s primary creator, said it’s fun to help kids learn about careers that they may not have known existed prior to the game. “There are so many different careers inside health care that fit different personalities and strengths – many I didn’t know about until college. It’s great to spark an interest in young kids that might help them find a career they love and they’re successful in,” she said.

Recently, ambassadors Julie Hale and Samantha Johnson (communication science and disorders) presented the game to 4th and 5th graders at Hallsville Intermediate School as part of the school’s annual Career Day program. In all, about 75 students participated in the game that day in 5 different sessions. Students caught on quickly, and many had experience with a variety of different health professionals, but didn’t know what they were called, or what their job really was. Students who have asthma learned they’ve probably seen a respiratory therapist. Those who had broken a bone realized they had seen a radiographer. “It’s fun to help kids connect different health careers with health scenarios they might have seen or been involved in,” Hale said.

Fifth grader Bella said “I think ultrasound is cool! That’s my favorite career I learned about today!” Aiden agreed. Cooper seemed interested in nuclear medicine, and several kids thought athletic training and physical therapy sounded awesome. The reactions of the kids are exactly what the student ambassadors hoped for. Hale confirmed, “Our goal is to have every kid leave the game understanding a little more about at least one health career.”

The SHP ambassadors work to help prospective students find their passions – and help them be prepared to pursue them. While 5th graders might be a bit young in the prospective student pipeline, Ghan and her team are passionate about introducing young kids to college and careers.

Megan Silvey