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While some Missoulians were still eating their breakfast on Monday, two dozen Montana high-school students taking part in a health career summer camp were wrist-deep dissecting the heart of a pig.

The summer camp, called MedStart, is designed to give high-school juniors and seniors a chance to explore health careers and the various programs offered at colleges in Montana.

The MedStart camp in Missoula is sponsored by the Western Montana Area Health Education Center at the University of Montana, a not-for-profit funded by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration.

Martha Robertson, program coordinator with the Western Montana AHEC, said hands-on activities like the dissection are some of the best ways to get kids interested.

“They were timid at first, but it's pretty much just cut it open and see what's there,” she said.

Dan McCarthy and Sarah Zuger, medical residents with the Family Medicine Residency of Western Montana, circulated around the room to each pair of students, helping them identify the different parts of the heart and explaining the role each plays.

McCarthy said this year’s students weren’t squeamish about getting their hands into the organ.

“This is better than the group last year,” McCarthy said. “By the end of last year’s they were just starting to nip at it.”

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Aryen Anderson of Thompson Falls said the medical residents walked them through identifying the valves, chambers, aorta, veins and arteries of their heart, peeling aside the flesh to point out each one.

His partner, Evan Griffiths of Missoula, said the morning dissection was a look at something he would never had been able to see otherwise.

“It was interesting to see the basic functions and see how your own body works,” Griffiths said.

After the students finished dissecting the hearts, they went to Hamilton for a guided tour of programs at Rocky Mountain Labs and GlaxoSmithKline.

The Missoula MedStart camp started on Sunday and will run through Thursday. On Tuesday, the students will take part in symposiums around the UM campus focusing on medical technologist careers, environmental health and social work. Neuroscience graduate students will also lead sheep brain dissections.

Western Montana AHEC has partnered with 14 different health-related businesses around the region that will be providing job shadowing to the students over the course of the day on Wednesday.

Participants will also meet and have dinner with residents of Village Senior Residence on Wednesday. Robertson said the visit will give students a look at the growing market for senior care in Montana.

The final day of the summer camp will focus on getting students ready to go to college, Robertson said.

“We will be having talks on finding the right college for you and for the parents on scholarships and financial aid,” she said.

Robertson said since she started organizing Missoula MedStart four years ago, 94 percent of the students who attended the camp went on to college.

The MedStart camp in Missoula is one of four camps that AHEC has sponsored annually since 2007, with the others in Billings, Butte and Great Falls.

Part of AHEC’s mission in Montana is to help solve the issues of a lack of health care professionals, especially in rural areas. By bringing in students from across the state, including smaller communities, Robertson said the hope is they will eventually return to their homes if they end up in a health-related job.

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Law and Justice Reporter

Crime reporter for the Missoulian.