Over the next two months, a handful of dedicated Arkansas high school students will trade their summer swimsuits for lab coats as they participate in a number of Arkansas Medical Applications of Science for Health (MASH) camps.

The two-week camps take students through a full course of medical careers and experiences, from radiology to pharmacy, from air evacuations to bomb protection.

"For these students seriously considering the medical field, it gives them the opportunity to take an in-depth look into what they want to do with their futures," explained AHEC-West MASH Director Chris Dickens.

Friday morning, students at Sparks Health System were wrapping up their first week of camp simultaneously wide-eyed, excited and exhausted.

"It’s been really fun; it’s exhausting, though," laughed Caprise Beam, a Hackett High School student. "I’ve done so much stuff I never thought I would do. I held a human heart in my hand! I watched an aneurysm repair!" she exclaimed as she smiled wide at her instructor, Nena Tucker, RT, the diagnostic supervisor over medical imaging at Sparks.

"I was a candy striper, and that’s how I decided what I wanted to do," Tucker said with a smile, "so I think any time we let these students get in and see the different areas, it’s great. I was a junior in high school … so basically it was the same as the MASH program, and then I chose X-ray, and here I am 23 years later! So I think it’s a great opportunity."

Students rotated through shifts, spending two hours at each station, absorbing as much as possible from each instructor, busily studying their potential future fields.

At the pharmacy station, lip balm was melted, scented, flavored and heated in a beaker, then poured carefully into containers. M&Ms and Skittles were numbered, counted and poured into pill bottles.

"I got to do a lot more activities than I thought. I thought we’d just be shadowing and watching, but they actually let us do things like this" said Colton McEvoy of Greenwood High School.

"I really enjoy teaching, and I really enjoy sharing," explained Alena Dodd, a fourth-year pharmacy student at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science who led the pharmacy part of the MASH program at Sparks. "Even when I started pharmacy school, I had a very slim view of what pharmacy is and what pharmacy does. So for me to get to come in and share with them beforehand, ‘Hey, this is what we do, there’s so much more than expected.’ I think the MASH program is awesome."

"It’s really shown me that I definitely do want to be in the medical field," added McEvoy.

Other students echoed McEvoy’s sentiments, laughing, smiling and staring wide-eyed at the X-rays, cadaver hearts, prescription bottles and a plethora of other demonstrations.

"It’s just a really great program," said Dickens. "And it wouldn’t be possible without the community’s support."

MASH programs will be ongoing throughout the state through the end of July, with two-week programs starting at Summit Medical Center in Van Buren on Monday and at Mercy Fort Smith and Mena Regional Medical Center on June 17. The Sparks program will continue next week.