CU medical school’s Rural track students tour a Delta County greenhouse in 2010. This June, Delta will bring the immersion program here. Courtesy image.

CU medical school’s Rural track students tour a Delta County greenhouse in 2010. This June, Delta will bring the immersion program here. Courtesy image.

By Caitlin Switzer

DELTA–(May 20, 2014)  Delta County has long had a reputation for fresh, locally-grown produce and locally-raised meats. Now, the term “Grow Your Own” has taken on yet another meaning for this rural community—next Month, a cooperative effort among local entities will result in the first annual “Grow Your Own” Summer Health Career Institute for local students at Delta High School.

Local businessman and economic development advocate Tom Huerkamp helped bring the players (in addition to CU and Delta County Economic Development, partners include Delta-Montrose Area Vo-Tec, Delta County School District 50, Delta County Memorial Hospital and CU’s Anschutz Medical Campus) together after learning of the demise of an immersion program formerly offered by CU, in which rural school districts could send promising students to the CU Health Sciences Campus for a week of immersion that allows them to see whether they want to pursue a  medical career.

In June of 2010, CU’s “Rural Immersion Week” brought a group of fourteen health professions students to Delta County to experience work and life in a rural community. The group was led by Mark Deutchman MD, director of the Rural Track, with local coordination by Delta Schoolteacher Evan Cummings. According to the Rural Track web site, students also toured an organic farm, an orchard, the fish hatchery, a re-created pioneer village and a coal mine. The coal mine tour included an extensive safety training session followed by an underground tour.

“I thought, that’s a helluva good idea,” Huerkamp said, of learning about the opportunities offered through Rural Track. “The admission for immersion week was $2,000, so I had gotten a group of ten students together, right about the time the federal funding for the program went away.”

So Huerkamp decided to bring the program itself to Delta.

Thanks largely to his efforts, from June 2 through 6 2014, a six-person team of health care professionals headed by a doctor will work with 25 prequalified juniors and seniors from Delta County high schools. The group includes a mix of genders and interests ranging from veterinary medicine to surgery, Huerkamp said. Students will be tested, will complete HIPA training, and will participate in a variety of health care experiences from CPR and First Aid to hands-on lab testing and emergency work at Delta County Memorial Hospital.

“They’re going to camp out at Delta High School on cots and sleeping bags,” he noted, “Because there will be a program every evening until 10 p.m.”

Local agencies involved include not only DCED—which has underwritten the $25,000 cost to students, but the Delta County Ambulance District, which will provide training, and the Town of Orchard City, which will host a barbecue at the town park. Participants will also enjoy a raft trip from the Pleasure Park to Austin, Huerkamp said.

“It’s going to be a mind-boggling week,” he said. “The response from our local medical community has been fantastic, and every meal has been donated by our local restaurants. (Delta County Health & Human Services Health Officer) Bonnie Koehler will be there to assess and evaluate what we accomplish, and what we fail to accomplish.

“This is a first for everyone involved,” he said. “We are totally excited about it, and about the level of cooperation—total involvement. Our community has donated meals and prizes—whatever we ask for, we get. Nobody says no!”

After all, according to a report  compiled by Rural Track in 2012, though approximately 20 percent of Colorado’s population lives in rural areas, only nine percent of physicians practice there. Huerkamp said that he hopes to establish a scholarship fund in future for local students who do opt to pursue a medical career.