Suturing fruit, putting casts on friends and reading X-rays are just a few of the many activities offered to middle school students participating in the annual Camp RMH, which debuted at Sentara RMH Medical Center in June 2013 and today is beginning to have real-world impacts on the lives of participants. In fact, three students in that inaugural camp were so intrigued by what they saw and learned, that today they are in their first semester of college, pursuing careers in health care.
Each year Camp RMH enables 15 bright, talented middle school students with an interest in health care to participate in hands-on activities in various departments throughout the hospital.
“I was grateful to be able to go into that environment and see all the options that medicine offers, whether as a nurse in the Emergency Department, a surgeon in an operating room or a technician in a lab,” says Isaiah King, 18, a member of the first Camp RMH who is now a pre-med freshman at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU).
Inspiring New Careers in Caregiving
Silvia Garcia-Romero, cultural diversity manager at Sentara RMH, developed Camp RMH as a way to expose local students from many different backgrounds to the opportunities of a career in health care. Her goal for the camp is to have about half of the 15 yearly participants be bilingual and/or bicultural.
“I reach out in the local community to encourage bilingual and bicultural students who represent different ethnic, immigrant and refugee populations in the area,” says Garcia-Romero, who works with middle schools in the area to identify students who may be interested in and qualified to attend the camp.
By doing so, she hopes down the road to increase the number of healthcare providers with diverse backgrounds at Sentara RMH.
Many campers go on to volunteer at Sentara RMH during high school, becoming more familiar with the hospital and more motivated to serve their hometown community.
Garcia-Romero also involves the campers’ families in the process, inviting family members to attend a graduation ceremony at the conclusion of the camp. In addition to viewing presentations by camp participants during the graduation proceedings, parents also have a chance to hear from speakers on how to help their kids succeed in school.
“The ultimate goal of the camp is to encourage participants to go to college and pursue a healthcare career,” says Garcia-Romero. “The program also is intended to foster a sense of community, which hopefully will motivate them to come back to Sentara RMH and work as a doctor, nurse, nurse practitioner or other healthcare professional.”
With the Class of 2018 graduating from high school this year, the first class of campers to attend Camp RMH in 2013 as rising eighth-graders are now moving on to the next stage of their lives, and Garcia-Romero’s goals for the program are beginning to bear fruit. Following are profiles of three campers from Camp RMH 2013 who are now pursuing careers in health care.
Class of 2018, Harrisonburg High School
Freshman biology major enrolled in the pre-med health advisory track
Virginia Commonwealth University
Isaiah King, 18, remembers learning about Camp RMH while he was finishing seventh grade at Skyline Middle School in Harrisonburg. The camp appealed to some goals he had already set for himself at a young age.
“I thought medicine would be a pretty cool career,” says King. “Yes, it requires a lot of schooling, but I would also be able to give back to the community, save lives and work with a lot of interesting people.”
He recalls some of the highlights of the weeklong camp: wearing scrubs, suturing oranges and bananas, getting an up-close view of a Pegasus flight-for-life helicopter, and exploring different hospital departments.
After attending the camp, King became a volunteer at Sentara RMH Medical Center, and he has shadowed various nurses and physicians in the Emergency Department.
He encourages other middle school students to apply to the camp, since the experience has the potential to inspire and inform one’s life and career goals.
“It’s not your typical summer camp,” King says. “A lot of my reasons for deciding to study medicine came out of Camp RMH and volunteering at the hospital. Medicine combines my love of science and my desire to help make people’s lives better.”
King also received a Diversity in Healthcare Scholarship through the Diversity and Cultural Competence Council at Sentara RMH (see sidebar), which he has applied to his VCU tuition.
Class of 2018, Harrisonburg High School
Freshman in the nursing program
Blue Ridge Community College
Maritza Valencia-Rocha, 18, was eager to apply to Camp RMH. Even as a middle schooler at Thomas Harrison Middle School, she was thinking about a career as a nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health.
“I was really nervous waiting to see if I’d get accepted to the camp,” says Valencia-Rocha, who will be a freshman studying nursing at Blue Ridge Community College. “I’m so glad I got in, because the experience was amazing.”
Valencia-Rocha has many fond memories of attending the camp. She enjoyed learning how to apply and remove casts from other campers, and hearing a midwife speak to the group about the hospital’s labor and delivery department. She was also thrilled about the scrubs she was given to wear while attending the camp.
“I thought: ‘For sure, one day I want to wear scrubs again,’” she recalls.
Valencia-Rocha is part of the first generation in her family to attend college. She highly recommends the camp to middle school students as a way to get a glimpse into what the future could hold.
“If students are at all interested in health care, they should give Camp RMH a shot,” she says. “I’m sure every single person at the hospital has wondered at some point whether it’s the right field for them, but now they wake up every day and get to help people and save lives. I would encourage interested students to take this opportunity to see if the medical field is right for them.”
Valencia-Rocha plans to attend Blue Ridge Community College for two years and then transfer to James Madison University.
Class of 2018, Harrisonburg High School
Freshman pre-med major
Mary Baldwin College
While Kimberly settles into her freshman year at Mary Baldwin College, she credits Camp RMH for igniting a spark that led her to her major and future career.
“I always wanted to be involved in the medical field,” says Saldaña, 18. “When I went to Camp RMH, I wanted to touch base more with the field and see what it was all about.”
After she attended the camp, Saldaña continued her involvement in the hospital as a volunteer. She worked at the hospital’s front desk during her eighth, ninth and 10th grades, fielding calls to transfer patients from the hospital to the lobby for rides home.
Saldaña is grateful to Garcia-Romero for having stayed in touch with her and her family over the past six years, following up and continuing to inspire her to reach for her goal of becoming a pediatrician. Like Valencia-Rocha, Saldaña is also among the first generation of her family to attend college.
“I want to become a pediatrician mostly because of my love for kids, but also because I want to make a difference in kids’ lives,” she says. “I want to be that pediatrician they can look up to and trust.”
Garcia-Romero says she is pleased to see the Camp RMH program inspiring some of those first campers to follow their dreams of becoming healthcare workers.
“If some of these and other students from past camps actually come back to their hometown community to work in health care locally, that will be the icing on the cake,” she says.
The Sentara RMH Diversity and Cultural Competence Council
As part of her role as cultural diversity manager at Sentara RMH Medical Center, Silvia Garcia-Romero also manages the Sentara RMH Diversity and Cultural Competence Council (DCCC), which was set up in 2011 to address issues related to patient care and the workforce, with the goal of creating a more welcoming environment in the hospital for staff and patients.
“We want to be more responsive to the cultural needs of all of our patients, who represent a wide and diverse range of cultures and languages,” Garcia-Romero says.
The DCCC is made up of clinical and nonclinical staff, as well as management and those working on the front lines. With the assistance of the Sentara RMH medical staff, the council has set up an annual Diversity in Healthcare Scholarship Award to help bilingual/bicultural staff members further their healthcare education.
One goal of the council this year has been to train staff on how to better work with interpreters and patients. As part of that effort, DCCC members worked with the Sentara RMH Marketing Department to create videos for use as training tools.
Another goal of the council is to add signage in the hospital lobby that says “Welcome” in many different languages.
“Local schools have done an excellent job addressing the cultural and linguistic diversity in our community, and I’d like to do the same here at Sentara RMH,” adds Garcia-Romero.
Applying to Camp RMH
Middle schools in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County receive Camp RMH application materials in the spring. The application requires a letter of recommendation from a teacher or guidance counselor, verification that the student’s immunizations are up to date, a transcript of the student’s grades showing his or her grade-point average, and a one-page essay. The topic of the essay is: “Why do you want to participate in Camp RMH?” Applications are submitted through the student’s guidance counselor at school.
Camp RMH 2019 will be held Monday through Friday, June 24-28, 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., with graduation on Saturday, June 29.
The camp fee is $60. Campers receive breakfast, lunch and a snack daily, as well as other camp supplies and materials, such as stethoscopes. They also receive scrubs, which they may keep.
Silvia Garcia-Romero, cultural diversity manager at Sentara RMH, started the camp with a grant from the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association. The RMH Foundation now supports the camp each year with a grant that helps pay for camp coordinator salaries, as well as supplies and food for campers.