Health Science Connection for Secondary & Post-Secondary Educators
January 2016

You have been referred to our e-newsletter because you work with students who may be interested in a healthcare career.

Montana AHEC/ORH supports efforts to improve healthcare across Montana. One of our 3 key objectives is to help students explore careers in healthcare. We hope that this newsletter may become a great resource for you and your students. Happy New Year!

Montana Must Deal with Mental Health Challenges
"Mental health has risen to the top of our national discussions. Not a day goes by that we don't read about the ramifications of mental illness: loss of employment, personal and familial heartbreak, financial implications, death. It is a topic that dominates conferences and public policy debates. It quite possibly is the most important health issue facing our state." Bozeman Daily Chronicle
New Community CEO Believes in Montana Health Care Culture
"Dean French, the chief executive officer of Community Medical Center, is a board-certified family physician who says he gained his knowledge of hospital operations while working for Clark Fork Valley Hospital in Plains. After leaving Montana for years and then returning, French said medical community here is remarkable in the way it approaches patient care.Missoulian
Montana's Dangerous Depression Trend Begs for Attention
"At the start of a new year, let's resolve to prevent what long has been the No. 2 leading cause of death among Montana teens, suicide. The latest Montana Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that nearly 30 percent of Montana high school students felt "so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row" that they 'stopped doing some usual activities.' That's the highest percentage recorded since the survey began in 1991.Montana Standard
Project SHARE (Student Health Advocates Redefining Empowerment)
The Project SHARE curriculum aims to build high school students' skills to reduce health disparities at the personal, family and community level. The Montana AHEC Program Office is currently implementing a pilot project with this curriculum. Thank you to Christine Briske at Ronan High School for allowing us to implement the pilot project in her health science class! -

Ways to Manage Stress
This lesson focuses on stress management, with an emphasis on techniques students can use. Students begin by examining ways people cope with stress and distinguish between positive and negative reactions. - 

Eastern AHEC

MedCareer Student Orientation:
Each school year, Eastern Montana AHEC and RiverStone Health partner with the Billings Career Center's MedCareer Students. Our goal is to expose them to healthcare related careers and provide job shadowing opportunities. Two groups of students will come to RiverStone Health on February 5th, 2016 to learn about the mission and goal of RiverStone Health as an organization, and receive college, financial, and career planning tips. For the remainder of the semester two students from the morning session will get the chance to shadow the Hospice House located on the St. John's Lutheran Ministry Campus on west end Billings. Two students from the afternoon session will shadow in the Dental department on RiverStone Health's campus.

Skyview High School Job Shadowing Day:
RiverStone Health and Eastern Montana AHEC have been asked to put together a job shadowing day for students from Skyview High School in Billings on April 3rd, 2016. We plan on having the students do a RiverStone Health job shadow rather than only shadowing one department, we hope to get the Clinic, Dental, Environmental Health, and Public Health on board for this great opportunity.  This is a chance for the students to explore the different healthcare related careers that are available.
Basic X-Ray Techniques Workshop:
This workshop is designed for those preparing to take the Montana State X-Ray Limited Permit Holder Exam. This 8 day, 104 hour workshop covers equipment operation, radiation safety, image evaluation, anatomy and positioning techniques, and much more. This workshop is approved for 73 credits by the ASRT-American Society of Radiologic Technologists.  We offer this course twice a year, the Spring Session workshop will be held at RiverStone Health in Billings Montana on March 18th-21st & April 1st-4th.  Registration forms for this workshop is available at under the Education: Continuing Education tab.  Contact Nikole Bakko at 406-247-3284 or for more information or to receive a registration form.
Continuing Education for Limited Permit Holder Workshop:
"What's Wrong with this Picture"
This workshop is for Limited Permit Holders needing continuing education credits.  This workshop is a one day workshop focusing on a variety of topics.  2016's topic will be "What's Wrong with this Picture?"  This workshop will begin with a short review of equipment operation and safety, how to care for trauma, special needs, and pediatric patients, and review anatomy/terminology.  The bulk of the class will cover how to properly take x-rays and read films to best determine a diagnosis and treatment.  This workshop is also offered twice a year, the Spring session workshop will be held at RiverStone Health in Billings Montana on April 23rd, 2016. Contact Nikole Bakko at 406-247-3284 or for more information and registration form.

The 12th annual State Leadership Conference will be hosted March 21-22, 2016, in Missoula, at the Holiday Inn Parkside.  We are looking for judges with medical and/or professional skills backgrounds to judge Monday evening and Tuesday morning events.  Time commitment is 1-2 hours.  Judge sign-up is available onlineA short judge's training session is optional, Thursday, March 17, 4pm, at the UM.
HOSA provides a unique program of leadership development, motivation, and recognition exclusively for secondary and collegiate students enrolled in health science education and biomedical science programs or have interests in pursuing careers in health professions.  HOSA is not a club for a few members. Rather, it is a powerful instructional tool which is integrated into the Health Science Education and health science related core curriculum and classroom. HOSA's mission is especially critical when considering the acute shortage of qualified workers for Montana's healthcare industry. The 2015 National HOSA theme is "LEAD," and our Montana students are the next generation of healthcare industry leaders.
If you are interested in starting a HOSA chapter at your high school, contact Martha Robertson, martha.robertson@umontana.eduMore information at

MedStart Summer Camps
These camps are designed for incoming high school Juniors/Seniors who are interested in exploring healthcare careers. The camps provide numerous hands on activities, job shadows, and introduce students to college campus life. AHEC received over 90 scholarship applications in 2015. Additional information and 2016 applications will be available at: 

Camps will be held in Missoula, Great Falls, Miles City, Butte, and Billings (dates listed below).
  • Missoula:  June 12-16
  • Great Falls:  July 10-14
  • Miles City:  July 17-21
  • Butte:  July 24-28
  • Billings:   July 31-Aug 4

REACH is an acronym for Research and Explore Awesome Careers in Healthcare. The regional AHECs set up a partnership between local hospitals and high schools to provide students the opportunity to visit their local hospital and participate in hands-on activities in a variety of departments. More information at
REACH Camp Schedules for 2016:
Eastern AHEC Region - 
  • January 28th - Lewistown at Central Montana Medical Center
Western AHEC Region - 
  • March 8th - Eureka at UM College of Health Professions & Biomed Sciences
  • April 14th - Libby at Cabinet Peaks Medical Center
South Central AHEC Region
  • April 20th - Butte at St. James Healthcare
North Eastern AHEC Region
  • March 8th - Poplar/Wolf Point
  • April 6th - Plentywood
  • April 14th - Malta 
Currently no schedules available for:
North Central AHEC Region                               

John Johnson, MD, FAAP
I am a medical geneticist, an MD pediatrician with special training in genetics.  I have been at Shodair for over 20 years, with a brief hiatus in Boston.  I came here in the 90s as director of Medical Genetics, and developed the DNA lab, and in collaboration with an excellent cytogenetics director, we improved that lab as well.  I left in 2013 to work and live in Boston, near my daughter in medical training, but my position at Tufts did not go well, with difficult politics, and I was fortunate to return to Shodair earlier this year (2015).  I am now a geneticist on the staff, and still direct the DNA (Molecular Genetics) lab here that we started some 20 years ago.  I plan to finish my career here in a few years.

1. How and why did you choose this career?
The route to where I sit was somewhat convoluted. I was in college and had planned to take the GRE to attend grad school in experimental psychology. My best friend had a dentist for a father and planned to attend medical school. I decided to take the MCAT and depending on my score, apply to medical school. I had never really thought about being a doctor, but had always been interested in becoming a scientist. My MCAT score was very good, so I applied and got into medical school. I never regretted that decision.
Next, I had to decide on a specialty. Never having thought of this before, I liked my pediatric rotations the best, probably because my mentors were the best, and decided to apply for pediatric residency.
I finished all that, 7 years after college, and began practice as a pediatrician in a health maintenance organization. After two years, and many night calls for earaches and diarrhea, I decided I wanted to specialize. I checked out pediatric neurology, an interest from medical school, infectious disease, an interest from pediatrics, and finally genetics, something I had been interested in but never excelled at. I had done a rotation during  pediatric training with a geneticist and really liked it. I enjoy puzzles in medicine, and most of the patients we saw were puzzles. I also enjoyed providing answers and support to families affected by birth defects and genetic disorders. The biology department, not the medical school, had funds for a fellow in medical genetics, the first at the University of Utah, and I decided to take that offer. I was in on the ground level of a major revolution in genetics, the advent of DNA technology, and this was very much a high level project at the University of Utah. I have some good stories from that time.

2. What does a typical day in your work life look like?
I have no typical day, and that is the fun of my position here at Shodair. Every day brings new questions and problems to solve, so I look forward to challenges as I come to work. 
I have three basic days. The first is before genetics clinic. On this day(s), I ready myself for clinic by reviewing the histories we have obtained on the patients we will see. If I am unfamiliar with the question at hand, I review medical information on the syndrome to be addressed. Preparing for patients and developing a testing plan can take all day.
In clinic, I see about 6 patients, around an hour each, and obtain more history (with the assistance of a genetic counselor), examine the patient (any age) if necessary, and summarize my thoughts for the family. Often we order genetic testing which will take some time to come back.
After clinic, I am looking for those test results and trying to tie up the visit or schedule further appointments for a patient we are still investigating. I also finalize my reports and enter patient information into various databases.
I also direct the Molecular Genetics lab at Shodair. This is a legacy from my early days at Utah where I got into DNA testing. This is not a hands-on job as my staff are extremely capable, but I review results and we all work on developing new tests. Right now, we are in the process of offering DNA sequencing of about 5000 genes to patients with unknown conditions. This is a mere fraction of the total DNA, but represents the current known disease causing fraction. We are excited about this and between clinic days I am often consumed with this work.

3. What are your working conditions like?
My working conditions are truly excellent. There is sometimes stress related to a patient in a difficult spot or with a fatal disorder, and the counseling which can be draining which goes with that, but overall my job is exciting and stimulating. I have a schedule where I have time to read, to research topics, and to prepare for clinics and well as to run the DNA lab, and I can say having worked other places where this was not available, that the time is truly a luxury. My hours are flexible (except for clinic days) and not overly long. I do travel to clinics, maybe up to 4 days a month, and roads in Montana in the winter can be a challenge, and those days can reach 13 hours. But in my over 20 years at Shodair, with almost 1000 clinics under my belt, we have not had to cancel for weather, and the clinic schedule has never been exhausting.  

4. What educational requirements are needed for your career? 
You can see from the above that I attended college (4 years), medical school (4 years), pediatric residency (3 years), and genetics fellowship (2 years, now 3). So 13 years after graduating high school I had my first real job!! It is a grind, and I would only recommend it to a truly dedicated individual, and one who has the financial resources to pay for the first 8 years. There are scholarships, of course, and ways to pay for medical school. My father was able to do this for me, so I didn't have the crushing loans many graduating students now have. I paid for my daughter's college, but when she wanted to apply to medical school, I told her she was on her own. So she promptly got into a federally funded MD-PhD program (she will have both titles) and plans to be a neurogeneticist!  So there are ways to make it happen.  

5. What skills and abilities are necessary in your profession?
Obviously, one must have an interest and skills in the sciences and math. One must have the stamina to make it through medical school and training, which can be exhausting and emotionally challenging. In my particular field, I need good visual discrimination skills to recognize syndromes in patients I see. I also must understand the mechanics of DNA to be able to run my lab. And as mentioned, finances for training are a hurdle.

6. Any final thoughts?
There are other routes into genetics. We have people in our department who have science degrees and who function in the lab as technologists, working with serum proteins, chromosomes, and DNA.  We have a medical technologist. We have had (currently recruiting) a PhD geneticist to direct the cytogenetics lab. We have 4 genetic counselors. These are individuals with an interest in genetics and in patient contact who pursue a 4 year science degree, and then a 2 year masters in genetic counseling, with the training emphasizing both science and counseling skills. I greatly enjoy working with my esteemed colleagues, who bring different skills and approaches to our field.

Johnson, J. (2015, December 1). Email interview.
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Please contact us with your comments, ideas, questions or projects you'd like to see highlighted in future issues of this e-newsletter. And thank you for the work you do every day to inspire and support public health initiatives and healthcare in Montana!


Renee Harris -
Montana Area Health Education Center (AHEC)