It can be hard to choose a career path when you are 16-years-old.

To help, a group of Gothenburg High School sophomores got the opportunity to visit local health care businesses Oct. 30 as part of a special program through the school established by high school guidance counselor Jerry Wiggins.

Wiggins said he began the health science tour in 2013 to expose students to careers available in our community. Stephanie Novoa, workforce education coordinator for Dawson Area Development, assisted Wiggins for the second year in setting up the tours.

“My role was to identify those students who have expressed interest in the careers highlighted by the tour and set up transportation,” Wiggins said. “Identification of students is based upon student surveys and previous acknowledgment of interest in the area. I usually begin with sophomores, as it provides an opportunity to network in hopes of landing a potential career shadow experience during the spring. If there’s space still available, I may invite juniors. We try to limit numbers to around 18 students. All students have a series of questions they must ask professionals during the tour. They return the completed form to me and will receive extra credit in a predetermined class.”

Novoa said the tour serves many purposes.

“The focus of Dawson Area Development is to retain and train the existing workforce while also recruiting new residents to the Dawson County area. A big piece of these tours is to impact that retainment piece,” said Novoa. “We believe that if we can show students the opportunities available in this area they might be more inclined to either stay here and go straight into the workforce after high school graduation if that’s what they choose, or if they go off to pursue post-secondary education we want them to know that they can come back and pursue those careers here too.”

This year, students visited Gothenburg Health, which was the most extended stop on the tour. They toured five of the hospital’s departments.

Students also toured Stone Hearth Estates, The Remedy and Dr. James J. Graff’s Gothenburg Dental.

Wiggins said the health care tour is one of three mini-tours he tries to offer students each year. He also adds a manufacturing, mechanics and construction tour, as well as a journey related to the agriculture industry. He said he is hoping to do a second tour in January and a third in April.

Novoa said the only other Dawson County school doing a similar program is Lexington, but added it is her goal to have every sophomore in the Dawson County area participate in a career tour in their area of interest.

“I encourage teachers and counselors to reach out to me if they are interested in having their students go through this experience,” said Novoa. “It’s important for the students to have these experiences, and it’s important for the communities to be involved. These students are our future.”

Contact Ellen Mortensen at ellen@gothenburgleader.com or call 308.536.6499