The eighth annual University of New Mexico Health Professions Symposium (HPS) 2024 offered over 80 workshops for students interested in health professions earlier this month. Participants had the opportunity to explore various health care fields, including population health, medical laboratory sciences, dental hygiene, and more.

The workshops at HPS 2024 covered a wide array of topics, from preparing for a pre-health track in college to balancing family life in medical school. This event offered a unique networking opportunity and facilitated professional growth. The symposium was a huge success, with a record-breaking 750 attendees, excluding workshop presenters and information table hosts.

The event was opened by Garnett Stokes, president of UNM, Douglas Ziedonis, executive vice president of UNM Health Sciences Center, and Eve Espey, professor and chair of UNM Health Sciences Department of Ob/Gyn and Family Planning Fellowship Director.

In his remarks, Ziedonis shared his experiences as an emerging professional and that students should consider the vast opportunities available to them in the medical profession.

“When I was sitting where you are, I had no thought about having a research career. I was inspired by the family doctor,” he said. “There are so many professions. Some of you said, ‘I want to be a doctor’, ‘I want to be a nurse’, ‘I want to be a dentist’! There are so many other fields, and that’s why it’s really a team effort. That’s why I encourage you to think open-mindedly as you come into this. I never would have thought I’d end up with my career the way it is.”

Espey emphasized the critical need for health care professionals in the face of an aging population and a shortage of health care workers, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. She thanked the attendees for their interest and potential contribution to the field.

“There is this aging population that is going to rely on many of you to take care of us, and also a shortage of workers. We know that a lot of people left the health care workforce during COVID, and we’ve been really struggling to get that back. Hopefully, again, you’ll get lots of lessons out of this. We need you. Thank you so much for being here,” she said.

The HPS planning committee actively engaged with several high schools in New Mexico, offering transportation to the event. One of the most popular interactive workshops was the suturing workshop, where students were guided on how to perform sutures.

Malia Trujillo-Hanawalt, a member of the College Outreach Committee and Pre-Optometry Society co-president, highlighted the importance of such workshops in helping students determine if a career in medicine is right for them.

“If you’re in high school and interested in going into the medical school and you want to figure out if it’s for you, trying to do sutures is really helpful in determining if this path is for you,” said Malia Trujillo-Hanawalt, member of the College Outreach Committee and Pre-Optometry Society co-president. 

HPS program leaders and committee members find the Symposium inspiring for young people interested in health professions. Muskan Katoch, program lead for HPS 2024, shared her own uncertainty about her career direction at a young age and how the Symposium helped her find her path.

“One thing that I would like for students to get out of this is a way to find their path. When I was a pre-med, I definitely didn’t have much that helped me figure out where I was supposed to be and if I wanted to be in this field. The one thing that I think really helped me was the Symposium. I think that can be applied not just to medical, but to dental, occupational therapy, specialties, and other occupations that we’re showing here,” said Katoch.

Meagan Harenberg, a program committee member of HPS 2024, shared her journey from being a high school attendee of the symposium to becoming a committee member. She highlighted the value of the symposium in providing information and guidance for students interested in health professions.

“I was one of the people that came here starting in high school. I had some previous knowledge of the pre-health professions and got a bunch of information about opportunities for undergraduate and graduate schools. It’s super rewarding to find out if pre-health is for you.”

Harenberg said the Symposium played a pivotal role in her pre-health journey.

“I just think it’s a wonderful process, both being a student coming to a workshop and also being a committee member. I think it’s very easy, especially as a high schooler to decide you want to be a doctor, but I was thinking, ‘How do I get there? What do I do?’ I got a bunch of information here. I kept coming here throughout high school, learning more, going to new workshops… and then when I got to college, I got to be behind the scenes on the committee to help determine what students want to learn about,” said Harenberg.

The UNM Health Professions Symposium is an invaluable resource to students interested in health care careers. Those who missed HPS 2024 will be glad to hear that HPS 2025 is in the works already.