It was about two years ago that 12-year-old Kailey Bates decided she wanted to pursue a career in healthcare — either as an orthopedic surgeon or a nurse.

“I like helping people,” the seventh-grader at DeLong Middle School explained Wednesday morning, her eyes bright as she watched a demonstration of how a fiberglass cast is put on at Marshfield Clinic’s Medical Center in Eau Claire. “I’m even more sure this is what I want to do now.”

The demonstration was part of a middle school career exploration field trip that took DeLong seventh graders to local businesses of all industries and trades on Wednesday morning.

Organized through a collaboration between the Eau Claire school district, Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce and Northwest Wisconsin District of Junior Achievement, an organization that teachers financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship to youth, the event aimed to give students an idea of what kinds of careers are available in the Chippewa Valley.

Danielle Kummer, finance director of the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce, said the event is driven by the Think Eau Claire initiative and the workforce shortage the community is currently facing amid low unemployment rates across the state of Wisconsin.

“A lot of students and young adults think they have to go elsewhere to pursue their dream career,” Kummer said. “We want to show them that they can find those careers right here in the Chippewa Valley.”

Caryn Stanek, a seventh grade math teacher at DeLong, said all students were broken into groups of 20. Each group visited two businesses.

“Frequently, students are like ‘I’m too young to start thinking about this,’” Stanek said. “But in reality, they’ll be in high school in two years and already so many people start taking classes to prepare themselves for the future. So it’s helpful to have an idea of what you want that future to look like.”

Stanek’s group started the morning with a tour of Charter Bank, where students not only saw the facility but also learned about different aspects of banks and the various jobs that can be found in banks.

Afterward, the group ventured to Marshfield Clinic’s Medical Office, where students experienced casting and splinting on their own arms and legs, learned how ultrasounds can be used to view muscles, arteries and the heart and tried for themselves suturing pigs’ feet.

Matt Schneider, regional communications manager for Marshfield Clinic Health System, said the intention was to make the day an interactive experience to open kids’ minds to the broad spectrum of careers in healthcare.

“The idea is to give a hands-on experience. With their fingers busy, we’re hoping that opens their minds to the horizons of the healthcare profession,” Schneider said. “When most students think of healthcare, they think of doctors; they think of nurses. ... Not everybody thinks about physical therapy or speech therapy or even accounting or healthcare administration or marketing or public relations.”

Bates said stitching up pigs’ feet was the best part of the experience, as she learned the technique one-on-one from Marshfield nurse practitioner William Parsons, who works in the orthopedics department.

“That was so fun,” a grinning Bates said. “I like that we’re learning all of this now so that when we get into high school, we know what we want to do and we can work toward it.”

Market & Johnson was another host business. There, students learned more about that business, as well as general employment opportunities within the construction industry, said James Hanke, a business development representative at Market & Johnson.

“The students were really engaged and had a lot of really good questions they wanted to ask, and it was a great opportunity for them to gain a better understanding of everything that goes into the construction industry,” Hanke said. “There’s a significant opportunity for people coming out of high school or graduating with two- and four-year degrees to get into the construction industry in a variety of ways.”

Other businesses who hosted students on Wednesday include: SDS Architects, Huebsch Services, Plank Enterprises, the city of Eau Claire, Grace Lutheran Communities, Dove Healthcare, HuHot, Eau Claire County, UW-Eau Claire, the Pablo Center, Scheels All Sports and Hope Gospel Mission.

Contact: 715-833-9206, samantha.west@ecpc.com, @SamanthaWest196 on Twitter