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Lighting the Fire: Connecting Students and Healthcare Professionals through the EOU Health Speaker Series

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”–William Butler Yeats.

This quote captures the essence of the Eastern Oregon University (EOU) Health Speaker Series—a collaborative project that aims to do more than simply transfer knowledge; it aims to ignite students’ passions in healthcare.

Organized by NEOAHEC and the EOU Pre-Professional Health Club (PPHC), the Health Speaker Series (HSS) connects students with a variety of mentors by scheduling candid chats with health providers, graduate students, and representatives from health career programs. The presentations are held in EOU’s Huber Auditorium in La Grande once or twice per academic term, with each session featuring a different career theme, such as “Pharmacy Night,” “Physical Therapy Night,” and so on. Speakers relay their educational and career journeys, advice for students considering their career, and thoughts about why it is so valuable to practice in a rural area. Most importantly, they highlight both the positive and negative aspects of their job so students have a realistic picture of each vocation.

EOU undergraduate students make up the bulk of the audience at HSS events, but all learners are invited to attend. Participants routinely include OHSU School of Nursing students in La Grande, local high school students, and interested community members.

While the idea of bringing students and industry professionals together is simple, the impact is profound. “Students benefit from the Health Speaker Series by creating long-lasting relationships with the people they are aspiring to be,” said Robie Davis, a biochemistry student at EOU and the PPHC Health Speaker Series Coordinator. “Not only are attendees granted great networking opportunities for job shadowing, jobs, and information about different programs of their choice—they are also creating contacts with people who will help them get their foot in the door.”

Dr. Andrew Pearson, a general surgeon at Grande Ronde Hospital, delivered a highly attended Health Speaker Series presentation in December 2018. He commended the program, saying, “Investing in undergraduate students gives them the opportunity to observe first-hand the lifestyle and requirements of [a health professional]. The exposure they get allows them to make a well-informed decision about whether or not a specific career is the best fit for them.”

Lori Baird, EOU’s advisor for pre-health professions, has also praised the program. “NEOAHEC's Health Speaker Series is irreplaceable,” she said. “I do not know of another program or partnership that provides the resources that NEOAHEC does for EOU, the La Grande community, and the Pre-Professional Health Club students. The depth of knowledge and insight that speakers provide and their willingness and interest in answering questions is a resource that is impossible to replicate.”

After taking a hiatus from the HSS for a few years, NEOAHEC was thrilled to resume its former role in January 2018. In just this short period of time, we have attracted more than 200 guests to the HSS, and have forged closer relationships with EOU undergraduate students than ever before! We look forward to continuing to improve and expand the Health Speaker Series so it remains a valuable resource for learners in the greater La Grande community.

Get involved! All are invited to attend Physician Assistant Night at the Health Speaker Series on Tuesday, March 5th at 5 P.M. The event will feature two very special guest speakers: Curt Stilp, an associate professor with the OHSU Physician Assistant Program, and Bonnie Dittmann, a PA at La Grande Family Practice. We hope to see you there!

Check out our website for the most current information about upcoming HSS events:

Also, like NEOAHEC on Facebook for updates about the HSS and other events.

Watch this recording from our March 6, 2018 Health Speaker Series featuring Nick West, 2019 OHSU MD candidate and Scholars for Healthy Oregon Initiative award recipient: