Approximately 40 middle school students got a crash course Monday in health care professions thanks to the regional MASH Camp, a two-day event sponsored by the Springfield-based Southwest Missouri Area Health Education Center.

Participating students have the opportunity to meet with physicians and hospital staff members, learn about medical equipment and practices, and do hands-on activities and experiments. The goal is to give students exposure to health care fields, said Katie Harden, manager of medical education programs at Mercy Hospital Joplin, the setting of Monday's session.

"They'll get to learn about those career paths ... and the educational path to go into those career fields," she said. "All they know about hospitals is doctors and nurses, and for so many of these kids, the camp is opening their eyes to a potential reality (of other professions).

"We want to do what we can to educate our future health care providers," she said.

After an introduction and instruction in properly outfitting themselves in a gown, gloves and goggles, the students' first task Monday was to dissect a cow eyeball. Mercy and MASH Camp staff circled the room, offering tips to help students cut through the sclera to get to the cornea, optic nerve, retina, vitreous and aqueous humors, choroid coat, tapetum lucidem and iris.

Other activities on Monday included a tour of an ambulance and medical helicopter, an exploration of therapy services, a demonstration of hands-only CPR and a chance to see Mercy Hospital's emergency room, operating room, MRI equipment, cancer center, intensive care unit and respiratory therapy unit.

Cylee Gilreath, an incoming ninth grader at Joplin High School, said this was her first time at MASH Camp. In the future, she would like to get a job in a hospital environment.

"I've always been intrigued by the medical field, and it's something I'd love to pursue," she said.

Cylee was among the students who were wowed by the dissection, which she called "cool." She was particularly surprised by the amount of vitreous humor, a gelatinous substance, inside the eyeball.

"I did not think there was that much in the eye," she said.

Cal Saporito, an incoming sixth grader at Central Middle School in Columbus, Kansas, was eager to try MASH Camp after having heard good reviews of it.

"My brother said it was pretty cool, so I thought I'd try it," he said.

The 11-year-old is still deciding what he'd like to study in high school and beyond, so for now, he doesn't want to commit to entering the medical field. But he enjoyed the dissection.

"It was a little gross and cool at the same time," he said.

Cal's mother, Angie Saporito, was on hand at the beginning of the camp to see if he would enjoy the camp as much as her older son did.

"I hope it sparks an interest for him and teaches him a little bit about health careers," she said. "They do a really good job of introducing all of the fields available in a health care system."

The camp continues Tuesday, when it will be held at the Joplin campus of the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences. Activities will include a hand-washing demonstration, nutrition and fitness activities, observation of a dissected cow’s heart and pig’s lungs, and an osteopathic manipulative treatment demonstration.

Two additional MASH camps are slated for July. The cost is $40, which includes lunch, snacks and a T-shirt. Registration may be completed online at

Emily Younker is the assistant metro editor at the Joplin Globe. Contact: eyounker AT joplinglobe DOT com.

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