When you ask Mohawk Trail Regional High School student Noah Cunningham, 17, of Ashfield, what career he wants to pursue after graduation, without missing a beat he confidently replies, “surgeon.”
The confidence comes from experience gained through Baystate Franklin Medical Center’s (BFMC) student ambassador program, where local high school students are given the opportunity to shadow members of the hospital for a six-week period. From radiology and The Birthplace, to standing alongside a surgeon and being walked through medical procedures, students are given an opportunity of a lifetime and a chance to see the variety of jobs available at their local hospital.
An important opportunity
With encouragement from his high school guidance counselor after participating in another Baystate program, “Blood and Guts” – a one night career fair to showcase the job opportunities available at the hospital – Cunningham applied to become a student ambassador.
“Being a student ambassador really helped me to make sure (pursuing a medical career) is what I really wanted to do,” said Cunningham. “It’s an opportunity, locally, that allowed me to follow up on my passion.”
Fellow Mohawk student and BFMC student ambassador Bree Cousineau, 18, of Rowe, agreed the program gave her a valuable experience which helped to mold her career choice.
“Before participating, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” said Cousineau. “But having the opportunity to be in the student ambassador program really helped solidify that I wanted to pursue a medical career.”
The summer program, which caters to students entering their senior year of high school, provides students with a first-hand opportunity to experience working life in the hospital. Cunningham and Cousineau have observed and shadowed a variety of staff at Baystate Franklin; however a highlight for both was having the opportunity to stand alongside surgeons in the operating room – learning the techniques being used and why.
The program began in 2004 as a way to provide high school students with an opportunity to experience the variety of health care professions available to them before deciding on a college or major field of study.
“I think it gives them additional relevance to what they are doing in their classes during the day,” said Mohawk Trail Regional High School Guidance Counselor Sara Neuenschwander. “When they see the courses they will take in college, and what they are learning here at Mohawk, programs like this are really helpful for their future and gives them exposure to a variety of career paths.”
Both Cunningham and Cousineau stressed the importance of having programs like Baystate Franklin’s student ambassador program available to high schoolers, especially those who think they want to pursue a medical career, but have never fully experienced what that actually means.
“Helping people is the perk that comes along with the job, and saving lives,” said Cunningham. “But I love learning about medicine and the science behind it. Our bodies are a machine…and how it all works is a mystery.”
Cunningham and Cousineau will graduate from Mohawk Trail Regional High School this spring and both plan to pursue medical careers in college. While Cunningham aspires to pursue a surgical career, Cousineau is interested in pediatric intensive care. They credit the student ambassador program and their academic work at Mohawk with providing them with a solid foundation to help them continue to pursue their dreams.
“The support from the student ambassador program, teachers, and guidance at Mohawk has really made me want to do these things,” said Cunningham. “I was really nervous at first, but the program has helped me build the confidence to know I can do this.”
The student ambassador program is just one of several opportunities available to local high school students to help determine if a medical career is the right path for them. Additionally, partnerships with local high schools, like Mohawk Trail Regional High School, help provide a pipeline to future careers with Baystate Franklin – bolstering the local workforce and keeping those who may have once thought job opportunities were only available to them in Boston – right here in Western Mass.
“Programs such as these are vital,” said Baystate Franklin Medical Center Manager of Volunteer Services Becky George. “It’s a unique way to learn about what they are interested in; what they may be good at; and sometimes is an opportunity to learn what they do not want to do.”
George said students often come in to the program thinking they may want to pursue a career in surgery, but once they see it first-hand, they quickly realize they aren’t comfortable in the operating room.
“I distinctly remember a student that was very passionate about health care, but realized during the program that he felt strongly about the ‘behind-the-scenes’ work such as medical research,” said Sandy Keir, Baystate Franklin Medical Center student ambassador supervisor and longtime hospital volunteer. “This is something he may not have realized until well into his college career had he not been given the opportunity to explore alongside health care professionals.”
How to apply
The application process, which takes place at the beginning of each April and has just closed for this summer, is similar to submitting a job application. Students must apply for the program on specific dates in person and are later scheduled for interviews. Applicants should be prepared to provide contact information for three references including an academic source, an extracurricular activity leader, and a personal reference. Each year the program accepts only 15 participants in an effort to keep the program personalized, with a strong focus on mentorship.
For those who may be interested in applying to the program or would like additional information, please contact: Becky George, Manager of Volunteer Services at (413) 773-2318.
“The student ambassador program is a great reminder of the importance of mentors recognizing there are young people looking for career direction,” said George. “There are so many people that work at Baystate Franklin Medical Center that are committed to helping students determine where they want to fit into this world. The program benefits the hospital as much as it does the students--It’s rewarding when we see their lightbulb moment and the realization that they’ve just discovered what the future may have in store for them.”