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TEWKSBURY — Each summer, Tewksbury’s Public Health Museum hosts a new group of high school juniors and seniors from the New England area at Outbreak, a weeklong camp dedicated to educating students about public health.
Alexa Bezjian, 17, of Tewksbury and Maria Estrada, 17, of Wilmington were among the campers at this year’s session.
Both Estrada and Bezjian said the camp gave them a better understanding of public health work and where they see themselves starting a career.
“When we went to the state lab yesterday, the commissioner was saying how the medical field, it’s to treat people with problems and sicknesses, but public health is preventing them from happening,” Estrada said. “Since I want to be a nurse, I got the idea of how it’s different and if you want to be a nurse or a public health nurse, it’s not really the same thing.”
Bezjian, who is considering studying psychology in college, said the camp helped her identify where her interests lie.
“I definitely have a better understanding about what public health is, but I think that after this, it kind of solidified for me that I don’t want to go into public health. I kind of want to do more of psychology or being a clinical nurse,” Bezjian said. “I think that’s more something I’m interested in and public health has helped me realize what I want to do.”
Ashlynn Rickord, Outbreak coordinator and administrative assistant at the Public Health Museum, said some students arrive knowing what they want to pursue as a career and others are just starting to explore.
“It’s been really exciting for me to tell the history of public health to the students and have them kind of realize what their role is in the whole process and what their future will be,” Rickord said. “We have some kids who had no introduction to public health other than just very briefly in high school and then there’s others that are at the other end of the spectrum and have a ton of experience.”
Rickord said the camp has a broad range of programs throughout the week that allow students to learn about the many facets of public health work.
“We have things about epidemiology, we have global health, local public health and how local public health departments play a role in the field, we started a session in careers in public health,” Rickord said.
“We also have field trips that we took this year: one to the Lowell Community Health Center to introduce them to the actual work on the ground of community health workers in the field, and then we also had a field trip on Thursday to the state laboratory in Jamaica Plain, which showed them actually how the state lab — how the behind-the-scenes stuff works as far as determining diseases, understanding their message, and how their research gets to the public.”
Feedback from the campers has been positive and like Bezjian and Estrada, students seem to enjoy the hands-on field trips.
“We’ve definitely heard fantastic responses from the field trips,” Rickord said. “Being at the state lab, they were actually able to dress in the gowns and put the gloves on and everything and actually be a lab assistant almost and they loved being a part of that and actually seeing what everyday work would have been like.”
Rickord said familiarizing the students with the many careers that public health offers was encouraging for them.
“Seeing how expansive these health centers are themselves and all the different needs that they cater to and all the job opportunities in a community health center where you don’t have to have a masters degree or something else to get into, that you could get into now and start volunteering at those places, I think that was very worthwhile for the students,” Rickord said.
“I think this week does a really good job in showcasing the different avenues of public health and how they can kind of find their niche in the field.”