Three months ago, Caitlin Coleman was in this same hospital, waiting for her sister-in-law to give birth.

It was then that she decided she wanted to become an obstetric nurse.

Today, Coleman has a behind-the-scenes pass to the obstetrics area at Community Medical Center - shadowing a registered nurse who is providing the same care to mothers and babies today as someone did three months ago for her sister-in-law and nephew.

"Her having a baby really kicked it in that I really wanted to be here," she said.

Coleman, a junior at Superior High School, is one of 22 high school students in Missoula this week for MedStart Summer Camp - a free, five-day camp encouraging rural, economically challenged, minority or first-generation college-bound students to pursue health care careers.

Put on by the Western Montana Area Health Education Center at the University of Montana, the camp provides a "stepping stone in giving them an upper hand for when they actually do go to school" and want to go into the health care field, said Jeremy Cox, coordinator for MedStart and a pharmacy student at UM.

A similar camp in Billings took place in June, and another will take place in Bozeman next week. Of the 140 high school juniors and seniors statewide who applied, half were chosen to attend the three MedStart camps.

This week, campers toured Community Medical Center, St. Patrick Hospital, the state Crime Lab, and Marcus Daly Hospital and the Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton.

They've talked with students currently pursuing degrees in health care fields and job shadowed a medical professional in the field of their choice on Thursday.

It's been an opportunity for the students to examine the different options in a field with a vast number of pathways to take, Cox said.

And hopefully, those pathways eventually lead back to the rural communities many of these students came from, because most of Montana is designated as medically underserved.

"Data shows if you take a kid from a rural area and they go into a health care career, they are more likely to go back to the rural areas to practice their trade," he said.


That objective seems to already be in play for Caitlin Coleman.

Growing up in a small town, she said she can't imagine living or working anywhere else. She'd like to return to Superior one day as an obstetrician nurse, "So people who would like to have kids in Superior could," she said.

Coleman's eyes are fixed on the infant in the nursery who is having his heart rate checked by Victoria Tracy, an obstetrician nurse at Community Medical Center for 25 years and Coleman's mentor for the morning. A slight smile appears on her face as she watches the baby sleep.

"She seems very enthusiastic," said Cindy Wolverton, the interim obstetrician manager at Community Medical Center, who said Coleman was "grinning from ear to ear" this morning when she retrieved her from the waiting room Thursday morning.

Campers have seen things the public rarely see, let alone teenagers, Wolverton said. And seeing the inner workings of the hospital has given them a vision of what's in the extensive and growing medical field.

"It's one of those areas you can probably get a job in, but just because you get a job doesn't mean you'll like it," she said.

"I think part of knowing what you want to do is experiencing it, and that's what this camp does," Wolverton said.

Intern reporter Victoria Edwards can be reached at (406) 523-5251 or at


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