1. Perkins, Tracy MSN, RN, NE-BC

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As we're all aware, the United States is projected to experience a nursing shortage as a result of aging baby boomers and insufficient numbers of nursing graduates.1 Because the country isn't producing enough healthcare workers to meet the future medical needs of its citizens, it's important for healthcare leaders to be innovative and creative in their efforts to recruit new individuals into a healthcare profession.2 Leaders at Mercyhealth Hospital and Medical Center Harvard believe that it's valuable to allow students into the hospital setting for hands-on demonstrations and open discussions with direct care staff to understand what a day in the life is like in various healthcare positions.

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Mercyhealth offers hospital-based, career-focused tours for high school students. This program gives students a unique insight into multiple hospital settings as they meet with different healthcare professionals, see the work areas, understand the job requirements, and participate in an interactive experience in each setting. They learn about college requirements and salary ranges, and hear personal stories from presenters in each area about why they love their profession.


The tours have several objectives. They're an opportunity to engage in community collaboration and strengthen the relationships between local schools and the hospital. They also provide education to high school students on healthcare careers in an effort to recruit new people into a healthcare-related profession. Finally, the tours provide a professional development opportunity for hospital employees, enhancing their professional growth.


These tours are a unique experience for students in the Harvard, Ill., area because this opportunity isn't available at surrounding hospitals. Since the program began, over 100 students have attended the tours; at least five students have enrolled in college with the intent of pursuing a healthcare career.


Anatomy of the tour

A maximum of 30 students attend the tour, which starts with a slide presentation by the director of nursing that includes a general overview of the hospital and health system, and the different career opportunities that exist. The students then split into two groups, with no more than 15 students in each group.


The supervisors of the different areas identify a healthcare professional within each department to meet with the students and provide a 15-minute presentation. Three key components are addressed: 1. What does a typical day in your role look like? 2. What's the best part of your job? 3. What's the most challenging thing about your job? The healthcare professionals are also instructed to show the students some of the more interesting equipment used within the departments to enhance their engagement and attention during the tour. Students have time to ask questions and are encouraged to keep an open dialogue with the healthcare professional giving the tour.


During the tour, the students spend 15 to 20 minutes in the following areas: laboratory, radiology, ED, OR, medical-surgical, pharmacy, and physical and occupational therapy.


In the lab, the students meet with lab personnel who give them a tour of the department. They have the opportunity to see the blood bank, observe different lab specimens being processed, and glance into a microscope to see a drop of blood.


In radiology, the students meet with a radiology technician who shows them the computed tomography (CT) and X-ray equipment, and potentially some images if available. One volunteer gets a ride on the CT scan cart for a demonstration of how it works.


In the ED, the students meet with an ED RN who demonstrates how to perform CPR with a device used to provide compressions. The RN also shows the students a video of how to insert an intraosseous (IO) needle. The students get the opportunity to practice with the compressions device and the IO driver.


In the OR, the students meet with an OR RN who shows them a procedure room and the scope equipment. The students also get an opportunity to practice with a vein finder.


On the medical-surgical unit, the students meet with an RN who shows them a typical patient room, explains the types of patients who are seen in the department, and shows them the equipment used to monitor patients' vital signs, with a few students practicing getting their BP, pulse oximetry reading, and temperature taken. They also see and learn about the telemetry monitor.


In the pharmacy department, the students are greeted by a pharmacist and sometimes the pharmacy technician. They see how the medications are stocked and distributed within the hospital setting. They also get an overview of the automated dispensing cabinet.


Lastly, the students visit the physical and occupational therapists in their workroom, where they see the different equipment used in the area. Three volunteer students have the opportunity to experience simulations that challenge them with getting dressed after a hip replacement, trying to recreate a picture using a peg board with limited eyesight and fine motor control, and putting peanut butter on a cracker while only being able to use one arm.


After visiting these departments, the students reconvene in the conference room for a roundtable discussion. Those involved in the student tours, along with nurse leaders and human resources (HR) team members, provide the students with their personal stories of how they got to their positions. The HR representative also discusses the pay ranges of different jobs and the students have the opportunity to ask questions.



This program has many benefits for students. It helps guide high school students into the healthcare field and aids students who have multiple interests in healthcare to determine which area is most appealing to them. We've started to provide individual job shadowing opportunities at Mercyhealth since the inception of this program to help interested students spend a day with someone in their field of interest. We've had a student spend a day shadowing in the ED, another student shadowed in the radiology department, and two have shadowed in the OR setting. Job shadowing opportunities can assist high school students to identify their ideal career choice.3


The program is also beneficial for the participating staff. Providing the tours counts as a teaching opportunity, for which the nursing staff can get credit. Two of the nurses involved in providing the tours have used this credit to complete their career advancement and recognition of excellence portfolio, which is submitted to their director. This is a way for the nurses to highlight their achievements and express their professional commitment, and allows them to make more money.


Finally, this program has enhanced the collaboration between hospital leadership and local schools. When the schools have students with questions about health-related subjects, they have a resource person within the hospital to direct them. Hospital leaders have been touched by the ambition and curiosity that the students show, which has helped with their professional engagement.


A positive experience for students and staff

Those involved with the student tours at Mercyhealth indicate that providing this opportunity to students is an overall positive experience. The students have an opportunity to discover if a career in healthcare is right for them. The tours potentially answer questions and help guide the students in planning for their future. The healthcare professionals giving the tours know they're providing a fun, valuable experience for the students, and potentially recruiting young, vibrant individuals into the profession. As expressed by multiple leaders involved in this experience, it's enhanced their excitement and engagement. It's also contributed to the professional development and advancement of the nurses involved. Although it may require many resources to put a tour together and host a group of students, the benefits make it well worth the effort.




1. Snavely TM. A brief economic analysis of the looming nursing shortage in the United States. Nurs Econ. 2016;34(2):98-100. [Context Link]


2. Maurer R. Closing the looming health care talent gap. [Context Link]


3. Doyle A. What is job shadowing and how it can help your career. [Context Link]