Health Care Explorers at Mercy Hospital Washington

Drew Smith examines a heart replica during a visit by the Health Care Explorers to the surgery center at Mercy Hospital Washington. Observing, in back, are explorers Alexa Weber, left, and Brea Hindersmann.

Once Harold Englert, a flight medic with ARCH 6 based out of Sullivan, took the group of students gathered at Mercy Hospital Washington for their monthly Health Care Explorers meeting outside, he didn’t have to do much to hold their attention.

The air ambulance helicopter that he works on did that.

Englert spoke to students about what it is like to work as a flight medic, the training that is required and the pay he receives as they leaned into the helicopter to get a look at his work environment.

Not many of the students are interested in careers in emergency medicine, at least not at this point, but they are curious about medical careers in general. Some said they are planning to work in nursing, others in surgery, and several were unsure.

“Well, this is a great place to figure that all out,” Englert, EMT-P, told them.

Since the Health Care Explorers post at Mercy Hospital Washington began meeting in 2017, the group has heard from a variety of medical professionals. They’ve listened to sonograms in a labor and delivery suite, learned how to do an injection, gowned and gloved up while touring the surgery center, and seen all kinds of things in the lab.

“The main purpose of the group is to explore careers in medicine,” said Gwen Mauntel, who serves as a leader along with Mindy Poe, an LPN at The Wound Healing Center at Missouri Baptist Medical Center.

“At our meetings, we host medical professionals who lead a conversation about why they picked their careers, the education required, and the joys and challenges they experience in their field,” said Mauntel. “They typically start with a presentation, then field questions from the group. If their offices or departments are on site, we sometimes get to do some hands-on stuff or at least a tour.”

The majority of presenters work at Mercy, but not always. Chiropractor John Simmons and EMT/paramedics Rick Aholt and Terry Matt from the Creve Coeur Fire Department have given presentations.

The students also have learned about imaging services, cardiac catheterization, wound care (hyperbaric oxygen therapy), infusion therapy, asthma and allergy care, respiratory therapy, heath information services, maternal and child health, rehabilitation, surgery center, emergency medicine, orthopedics and signing up as a Mercy volunteer.

Future meetings include speakers from pharmacy, optometry, dentistry and dermatology. Mauntel said she’s also hoping to arrange presentations by nurse practitioners and physician assistants, as well as diabetic educators.

Makayla Mundwiller, a sophomore at St. Francis Borgia Regional High School who joined the Health Care Explorers last year to learn more about the hospital and what career choices it has to offer, said her favorite presentation so far has been one on rehabilitation.

“We got to tour the whole rehabilitation building and learn many things that I will never forget,” said Mundwiller, who is currently planning for a career as a child life specialist, or someone who works with children and their families in hospitals to make them feel comfortable and help them cope with everything going on.

Mauntel said the rehab therapists were especially engaging for the Explorers because of all the props the students could touch and try.

“One (therapist) who works mostly with schoolchildren brought in these half-balls that she uses with them to work on balance,” she said. “One who works with older people demonstrated how to get patients in and out of bed safely.”

Bruce Bailey, a junior at Union High School who is planning to be an anesthesiologist, said he finds all of the presentations interesting.

“They’re all so different . . . even the ones who just talk about their jobs and answer questions are just as interesting as the ones that bring in props and other items,” said Bailey.

Elizabeth Poe, a senior at Pacific High School, joined the Health Care Explorers because she was thinking she wanted to pursue a career in medicine. She has since changed her focus to engineering, but she continues to enjoy learning about potential medical careers. One of her favorite meetings was when they got to visit the pathology lab.

“I’ve gained more understanding about all these fields of work,” she said. “It’s neat to learn about what they do. I think it’s helpful and interesting for anyone considering a career in a medical field to learn from someone who works in that field.”

And more than just a source of information, the Health Care Explorers introduces students to working professionals who can provide them with job shadowing and networking opportunities.

“It is amazing that these students have the chance to be exposed to so many different avenues in medicine, maybe even things that they never knew existed,” said Mindy Poe, Elizabeth’s mom and one of the group’s co-leaders. “With the Explorers program these young people have the opportunity for hands-on experiences they may not have had access to before they decided what they wanted to do as a career.”

One of her favorite presentations was from nurses in obstetrics.

“The enthusiasm and passion for their job was undeniable! They brought equipment and tools for the students to ‘play’ with. The group even got to touch and hold a fresh placenta!” Poe remarked.

Meet on First, Third Monday Evenings

Exploring is a program offered by the Boy Scouts of America, and there are a dozen career fields available, although not all of them are offered in every community.

Here in Franklin County, along with the Health Care Explorers at Mercy Hospital, there are law enforcement, aviation and fire and EMS Exploring posts, with plans to establish a law and government post.

The Health Care Explorers post here was established in October 2017 by Mauntel, Missy Manhart and Ken Etter, senior district executive for the Boy Scouts of America Osage District, which has offered Exploring since 1949.

“This is our workforce development program,” Etter told The Missourian back in May for a story on the Fire and EMS Explorer Post that part of the Washington Fire Department.

“It’s a way to show our youth everything that goes into these careers, that it’s not just what they see on TV . . . but the real down-to-earth practical things that these individuals do on a daily basis,” he said.

The Health Care Explorers post is open to students age 14 to 20 from any area high schools. Students currently involved in the group are from Washington, Union, Pacific and St. Francis Borgia high schools, but any student willing to drive to Washington for meetings is welcome to join, said Etter.

There are more than two dozen students signed up. Most are sophomores and juniors in high school.

The Health Care Explorers meet twice a month during the school year on the first and third Mondays at 6:30 p.m. Meetings are held at Mercy Hospital Washington in the Tucker Room on the second floor. They typically last between one hour and 1 1/2 hours.

Not every Explorer comes to every meeting, admits Mauntel. They tend to pick and choose the meetings and topics they find interesting, she said.

Students who are interested in joining the Health Care Explorers are welcome to attend a meeting first to see what it is like, said Mauntel. Or if they know they want to join, they can email Mauntel at gwen.mauntel@borgia.com for an application. There is a $33 fee, which goes to the Boy Scouts to cover the cost of insurance.

Gain Deeper Knowledge, Understanding

Bailey said when he joined the Health Care Explorers two years ago when he was a freshman, he already knew he wanted a career in medicine — initially he was planning to be a cardiothoracic surgeon — but the Explorers has helped him gain a deeper knowledge and understanding than he could find through Google searches.

“I’ve had to study medical careers for some classes I was in, but I figured that learning about them from someone who actually works in the field would be more informative and interesting than searching for information on the internet,” he said.

Mundwiller agreed.

“If you join the Health Care Explorers, you will learn so much about the hospital and all the careers that they have to offer,” she said. “If you’re thinking about getting a job in the medical field or even if you want to learn about the hospital and all the careers that they have, join, because it’s a great experience and you learn so much.

“Also the speakers that they have are always amazing!”

Mauntel credits Mercy for making the Health Care Explorers program here possible.

“I’m very grateful to Mercy for supporting our group and opening its doors to both its facility for meeting space, and its health professionals. It’s a really wonderful program,” she said.

Mindy Poe, who initially was a parent observer at the meetings until one of the leaders dropped out, said she enjoys watching the students’ reaction to the presentations they hear and see.

“I have found it interesting to hear others tell about their path to their career and what it is that makes them love their job,” she said.

As an LPN and a 2010 graduate of Washington School of Practical Nursing, Mindy Poe has been on both sides of the room for the Explorer meetings. She gave a presentation on wound care and shared her career path with students.

“I am a very passionate nurse and do whatever I can to help my patients in their journey to healing and feeling the best that they can,” she said.