VANTAGE students at the U of M

Minnetonka High School students in the VANTAGE Health, Sports & Science program observe their classmates working with U of M behavioral health graduate students in a simulation room.

Students in Minnetonka High School’s VANTAGE Healthcare and Sports Science program are receiving direct exposure to behavioral health career opportunities, through a partnership with the University of Minnesota.

Beginning last week and continuing this Friday, VANTAGE students will visit the University of Minnesota’s Interprofessional Education and Resource Center (IERC) and Academic Health Center (AHC) Simulation Center, where they will be trained as Standardized Patients and will then participate in simulated counseling sessions with U of M graduate students in a controlled environment (a standardized patient is defined as a person who has been coached to accurately and consistently recreate the history, personality, physical findings and emotional state of an actual patient).

Professors evaluate simulations behind a two-way mirror. VANTAGE students gain exposure to a team of professionals and students actively preparing for careers in social work and counseling, and witness a learning environment where mistakes are made and feedback is critical to the learning process. VANTAGE educational strands will include AP Psychology and IB Sports, Exercise and Health Science.

It is an opportunity for students to see U of M healthcare facilities and is a win-win, as graduate students will gain access to teenage Standardized Patients, which are not as easy to find as college student or adult patients and are a demographic they will likely serve as professionals. The partnership will better prepare graduate students, and offers unique learning opportunities to both groups.

“Our philosophy in this center is every professional is a learner and every learner is a professional, you’re just at a different point in your career trajectory,” said Dr. Jane Miller, director of the AHC Simulation Center and the IERC, who oversees the Standardized Patient Program, addressing the graduate students in an orientation before the simulations that included VANTAGE students.

Currently, the state of Minnesota is experiencing a critical shortage of mental health care workers. In a report last month from a state panel to the Minnesota Legislature, a recommendation was made for “more targeted efforts to expose middle and high school students to mental health professions.”

“The partnership is a win-win, and it’s especially a win for the people who need these services in the community,” said Dr. Joseph Merighi, associate professor and director of graduate studies with the University’s School of Social Work.

The VANTAGE Healthcare and Sports Science program, now in its second year, allows students interested in medicine, science and healthcare-related fields to gain hands-on experience and insight into their fields of interest, before even filling out their first college applications. As part of the U of M partnership, they are also able to gain insight and empathy from the patient perspective.

“You have to pull people in and get them to talk to you, and it’s a lot harder than you think,” said Minnetonka junior Dan Charpentier of the simulations, who entered VANTAGE with plans to eventually go into surgery. “Experiences like this really open an understanding of the field, and let us see what it’s like.” Added senior Anna Carpenter, who is interested in nursing, “You don’t know what is going to happen in a session, so it’s smart to have something like this. You don’t want a social worker who’s inexperienced.”

VANTAGE is Minnetonka’s Advanced Professional Studies program, and is a collaboration between the high school and the professional community. It was designed for students who want to gain a deeper understanding of and actively participate in high-demand professions, with a hands-on program that combines coursework, project-based learning and immersion in professional environments.

“This unique experience gave our VANTAGE students exposure and interaction with a team of young health providers, chemical health and well-being role play (as this simulation deals with chemical health), the profession of social work, education from professor-level educators at the University and what the U of M’s Academic Health Center has to offer,” said VANTAGE Instructor Brent Veninga of the partnership with the University. “I was very proud of our students and our program today. It is giving our students an edge like no other.”

Enterprise reporter

Meghan Davy Sandvold is a regional reporter covering the eight Southwest News Media communities. Born and raised in the Lake Minnetonka area, she now calls Eden Prairie home.