Aroostook Career Exploration returns to in-person learning at PI hospital

1 year ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — An Aroostook County hospital has revived a program to interest youth in careers in health care.

Following a three-year hiatus, Aroostook Career Exploration has returned to offer hands-on training to students from five local high schools.

Presque Isle’s A.R. Gould Hospital created the program as a unique way for Aroostook County to address the healthcare worker shortage, while retaining local youth by providing career opportunities at the hospital. It’s the only program of its kind in the state and has inspired several young people to start local careers in health care, organizers said.

“It takes a community to run a hospital, so there’s a diverse array of job opportunities and careers in the hospital,” said Goldie Ballerstein, manager of clinical education at A.R. Gould.

The program’s goals are to help educate students about the possibilities of hospital careers, but also to encourage them to remain in Aroostook County, Ballerstein said.

Past participants have begun their careers in multiple parts of the hospital, including the pharmacy and the operating room as surgical technicians, she said. Some former students even want to return as helpers.

So far, more than 150 students from Fort Fairfield, Presque Isle, Caribou, Easton, and Mars Hill have opted in.

Students will experience hands-on training and job shadowing at the hospital, and can earn CPR certification and join in internships at Northern Maine Community College and the University of Maine at Presque Isle. The campuses have health-care education labs and programs for nursing, emergency services and other health professions.

In the program’s first session In March, students will tour the Presque Isle hospital and learn about hospital-based career fields. Other sessions will include a new escape room team building exercise in May and a mock disaster drill in the summer. 

Career Exploration previously did a mock disaster of a plane crashing, where students had to put the skills they learned to the test in an emergency setting.

New this year, school buses will transport the students, which allows more to participate, she said.

The hospital’s first career program was Survivor Aroostook, which was a summer-only event that lasted a week. But students wanted more, and organizers knew there was potential to grow. Created in 2019, Aroostook Career Exploration was a more in-depth experience for students to learn about career possibilities in a hospital like A.R. Gould and also how a hospital runs in Aroostook County.  

Due to COVID-19, the in-person program ceased and the hospital presented online tutorials in  2020 and 2022, but it just wasn’t the same, according to Ballerstein.

“It’s a complete circle,” Ballerstein said. “Students really realize the potential that we have here at AR Gould and the staff members that came from it really want to participate.”

Career Exploration is currently unique to Aroostook County, but A.R. Gould is interested in helping organizations throughout Maine develop their own programs.

The hospital will later expand the effort to five or six programs during the school year. Seniors will be able to apply for a scholarship attached to the program, but that is in the early planning stages, Ballerstein said. The scholarship will be on offer to around three to five students once the scholarship comes together by the end of this school year.

Students can register for Aroostook Career Exploration until Feb. 27. They must obtain parental permission and should reach out to guidance counselors for information.