On April 22, students from Gilmer, Fannin and Pickens counties attended the Medical Symposium for Rising Professionals. The event was a collaboration between area medical professionals and institutions of higher education, including the University of North Georgia (UNG).
Gilmer High School was a recipient of a grant through Complete High School North Georgia, an initiative of the UNG College of Education that targets first generation Appalachian college students. The Medical Symposium for Rising Professionals was supported as one of the activities stemming from the grant.
"This event provided area high school students from Gilmer High School — as well as students from Fannin and Pickens high schools — the opportunity to hear from medical professionals in a wide range of careers ranging from entry-level to professional-level medical careers," said Sandy Ott, assistant director of UNG's Blue Ridge Campus. "There are many programs available for exploration from the University System of Georgia, Technical College System of Georgia and nearby private institutions."
Other institutions collaborating for the event included Dalton State College, Young Harris College, North Georgia Technical College and Chattahoochee Technical College.
"The prior conditions of our economy and the skills gap that exists — the demand for skilled professionals versus the available supply — has brought the necessity of career education to the forefront of political leaders' agendas, as evidenced in the recent State of the Union Address and the State of the State Address," said Janet Davis, work-based learning and youth apprenticeship coordinator for Gilmer County Schools. "Many economic development summits have taken place across Georgia in the past year to bring vested parties together to solve our ailing economy. From this, there is more focus on career education than ever as it is an important component in the curriculum of all disciplines."
Davis added that a few of the school's goals for the event were to expose students to a broad array of careers in the medical profession, the demand, school and program admission policies and educational requirements.
According to the Appalachian Regional Commission, both Gilmer and Fannin counties are economically at-risk, and both have two areas that are economically distressed. The designations are based on criteria such as unemployment rates, family income and per capita income.
"Seventy percent of Gilmer County High School's student body receives free or reduced-cost lunches; this is a standard measurement for economic need in schools," said Dr. Sarah Widincamp, assistant professor of middle grades education at UNG and director of Complete High School North Georgia. "Prior to the establishment of UNG's Blue Ridge campus, students in these counties were at least 30 or 45 minutes away from any higher education institutions or access to dual enrollment courses."
Widincamp also said that both Fannin and Gilmer County high schools have a college going rate of less than 50 percent for their senior classes.
"Area medical professionals volunteered their time to share their experiences, education pathways, and career outlooks to give students an opportunity to consider a variety of high-demand medical careers," Ott said. "We had more than 20 medical professionals at the event to talk with the high school students in a panel format. To be able to bring so many resources together for the students of this area is wonderful. This program was an example of how truly dedicated and passionate the area is to provide opportunities for students."
Some 125 students from area high schools attended the event. Staff and admissions representatives from the five supporting colleges provided information and answered questions about the medical and healthcare options offered in their programs.