Students in the Merced Union High School District had the opportunity to interact with health care professionals Tuesday during Merced’s first Growing Health Leaders Youth Conference.
The conference, organized by the Central Valley Health Network, gathered more than 300 students and 28 guest speakers at the University of California, Merced. The purpose of the event, according to organizers, was to provide high school students the opportunity to learn about the different careers available in the health care field.
The conference kicked off with keynote speaker Dr. Silvia Diego, chief medical officer at Golden Valley Health Center in Modesto. Diego, who was raised in the Central Valley by migrant farmworkers, shared with students the obstacles she had to overcome before reaching her goal of practicing family medicine in the Valley.
“Being in health care is extremely rewarding,” Diego told students. “But you have to choose wisely because this career path is hard; not impossible, but hard.”
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Other health care professionals offered similar advice in their respective workshops.
Dr. Bethany Blacketer, who practices obstetrics and gynecology at Livingston Medical Group, talked to students about the shortage of physicians in the area.
“The face of health care is changing and so should its providers, but with a growing insured and elderly population there is a physician shortage, so I advise students to get to work,” Blacketer said.
Pathologist Eloisa Fuentes told students that passion is key to succeed in the medical field.
“When I first started, I had this romantic idea of what medicine was like,” Fuentes told students. “Once I got some experience, I learned that medicine was nothing like what I saw on television. It’s difficult, so you really have to love what you do. (Health care professions) are well-paid, but you can’t do it just for the money.”
The conference was the first exposure to interaction with medical professionals for many of the students in attendance.
“I thought (the conference) was really helpful and informative,” said Dulce Vera, a senior at Livingston High School, who heard about the event through her medical Regional Occupational Program class at Atwater High School. “I want to be a registered nurse, so it’s cool to hear from other nurses. I just wish we had more field trips like these, and that more people knew about it because a lot of my friends didn’t know.”
Planning for the conference started in January after a similar event was successful in Tulare County, according to conference coordinator Mao Xiong.
“We just want to send students the message that in order to get to the same position as these health care professionals, they have to continue their education,” Xiong said. “We also want to encourage diversity in the field, so we made sure to bring a diverse group of speakers that students can possibly identify with.”
The Growing Health Leaders Youth Conference was funded by the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development and sponsored by the Health Workforce Initiative.