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'Infatuating': Healthcare group aims to attract high school students to field at Billings event

Montana HOSA Leadership Conference held at Rocky Vista University
Students at Rocky Vista University speaking with Montana HOSA competitors
Posted at 4:54 PM, Apr 04, 2024

BILLINGS — The national healthcare shortage continues with population growth and aging identified as primary drivers for the increasing need, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

In Billings, Rocky Vista University is getting ready to celebrate its first graduating class. On Wednesday and Thursday, the school welcomed back the annual Montana HOSA conference, bringing in high school students from across the state to apply learned skills in real-world scenarios.

Students entering RVU for the annual Montana HOSA conference
Students entering RVU for the annual Montana HOSA conference

The healthcare industry is the fastest-growing in Montana and is expected to add more than 1,300 jobs each year, according to Montana HOSA.

"As far as I can remember, if somebody asked me what I wanted to do, I wanted to be a doctor,” said Boston Macdonald, a sophomore at Billings West High School attending the Montana HOSA conference, on Thursday. "As I got older, I just found myself being infatuated with the idea of maybe going into surgery or doing research in neurology. I think it’s a very interesting thing."

Boston Macdonald
Boston Macdonald

Montana is home to hundreds of high schoolers interested in entering the healthcare field:

"In the future, I’d like to go into neuroscience or maybe neurosurgery,” Macdonald said.

"I'm actually attending Columbia this fall. I’ll be pursuing a degree in public policy and trying to tie public health into that,” said Jack Milroy, a senior at Billings Central Catholic High School attending the conference, on Thursday.

Jack Milroy
Jack Milroy

But nationwide, a predicted shortage of up to 86,000 physicians could happen over the next 12 years, which makes these students a rare breed.

"Looking at NASA and things that they’re doing with astronauts, there’s different neurosciences that go into, like, building helmets for space exploration," Macdonald said. "Like Mars, if we ever do send people to Mars, there would have to be neurostimulants in helmets. So that’s always infatuating."

Macdonald has long been on the receiving end of healthcare and knows in a rural state like Montana, access can be a challenge.

"Just from my own medical experience, since it’s more of a rural area, there’s not many advanced medical capacities here," Macdonald said. "So it’s very common for people to have to go to Minneapolis, or even places like Denver, Colorado, like I have."

An empty hospital bed at RVU
An empty hospital bed at RVU

She recently beat lung cancer.

"I’ve been in remission for a little over a year,” said Macdonald.

Now she’s focusing on the future and how she can make a difference.

Suturing a stuffed animal
Suturing a stuffed animal

"It interests me to help people,” said Macdonald.

Which is exactly what Montana HOSA State Director Katie Meier loves to see.

"These events are just so exciting to see the kids excelling and really working hard,” Meier said on Thursday. "We’re growing exponentially and we’re doing that with a lot of support."

Katie Meier
Katie Meier

Montana HOSA held its annual state leadership conference at Rocky Vista in 2023 and returned this year.

Montana HOSA Leadership Conference entrance at RVU
Montana HOSA Leadership Conference entrance at RVU

"Most of the students here have expressed interest in healthcare and spend this whole school year kind of in their local communities working on those skills,” Meier said. "(We're) trying to help kids gain the technical and soft skills to kind of fill some of our healthcare shortages."

It’s a way to bring the students into the community and hopefully convince them to stay.

"When you think about a lot of our rural areas, you know our kids don’t have access even probably to a hospital within 100 miles of them. And so it’s that exposure piece of just kind of getting to see all of that and then hopefully having them return into these communities where we have a hard time hiring healthcare providers,” Meier said. “I think we want (students) to go wherever they’re happy but we hope that they would be happy here."

Students at Rocky Vista University speaking with Montana HOSA competitors
Students at Rocky Vista University speaking with Montana HOSA competitors

Luckily, students like Milroy and Macdonald are working to change that.

“Fifty-two of our 56 counties are in a deficit for healthcare workers," Milroy said. "I definitely want to go out of state for my education and then try to come back and try to alleviate that deficit."

"I'd love to come back to Billings," Macdonald said. "It would be nice to just come here and help expand the medical field for other people."

An RVU student showing a HOSA competitor one of the machines
An RVU student showing a HOSA competitor one of the machines

To learn more about Montana HOSA, click here.

To learn more about Ricky Vista University, click here.