MISSOULA — It's been a very difficult and challenging year for health care workers.
They're experiencing exhaustion, heartbreak, illness and more as they fight through the COVID-19 pandemic. But in spite of it, many people are stepping up to join the fight as MTN News found out when we checked in with the Missoula College Health Professions Department.
If you didn’t know what a respiratory therapist was before the pandemic, you probably do now as they’re saving lives in the fight against COVID. It’s a battle attracting many new health care heroes.
“I’ve seen an uptick in interest in health care careers in wake of the pandemic. I think students are looking around and thinking they want to be a part of the solution,” observed Missoula College Health Professions Department Chair Dan Funsch. “I want to do what I can to help this pandemic and to help people maintain health.”
The pandemic does not seem to be scaring students away at Missoula College where enrollment is robust in the six health care programs offered.
But learning during a pandemic can be tricky but also unique.
“We still get to go to clinicals and still get to physically learn from doing, especially with everything going on with COVID-19. We're learning a lot of those safety precautions and it is very real,” student Timothy McMullen said.
“There's a lot of hands-on learning even with the safety nets that we have with the mask and the gowns and students aren't going into the COVID-19 rooms themselves. We get to learn by doing in this program and I really enjoy that,” McMullen continued.
Many students who come to Missoula College’s health care curriculum already trained as a CNA or EMT. It gives them a competitive edge, but more than that -- a glimpse into the real world of medicine that isn’t always pretty.
“Some students-- all they know about health care is they watch Grey’s Anatomy and they really aren’t familiar enough,” Funsch said. “So, getting a little bit of that basic entry-level experience really dispels any of the notions they may have about health care. When you are showing up at 7 a.m. to help sick people, you’re going to figure out very quickly if health care is for you.”
The jobs are out there and students often graduate with employment waiting for them.
Missoula College is also looking into more outreach to rural areas of Montana.
“Rural areas have the greatest shortages and we're trying now to get some programs going to support Native American students, especially those who want to return to their Reservations to provide health care assistance,” Funsch said. “We're making more of an effort to recruit students into more rural facilities.”
Funsch sees is enthusiasm and a drive to succeed.
“Whether here in Missoula or across Montana or nationwide, students with health degrees will find -- they will find that they are -- they aren’t necessarily lucrative, you are not going to be rich, but these jobs are very meaningful and very productive and it's very easy to get employment anywhere you look,” Funsch concluded.