Health science careers make up more than half of the top 20 fastest-growing occupations nationwide. Projections show that the United States will need 5.6 million more healthcare workers by 2020. It’s no wonder that more high schools are offering programs to help prepare students for careers in the medical field. Here’s a look at three schools offering successful and innovative approaches to healthcare education.

Thomas Edison Career and Technical Education High School – Jamaica, New York

Thomas Edison CTE School has a long history of offering healthcare-related programs. It is the only school in New York City with a medical assisting program approved by the state education department. While the courses offered prepare the 2,100 students for various careers, the medical assisting program is extremely popular. Dr. Margaret Savitzky, a medical assisting instructor at the school, points to several key reasons why the program is so successful.

Students can leave with certification.

After completing their course work at Thomas Edison CTE, students can take their exams and get hired. “The medical assisting program is a three-year program. It culminates in a certificate in medical assisting when students pass the national certification exam,” says Dr. Savitsky. “This gives students the unique opportunity to leave high school and begin working in the healthcare field.” 

The  curriculum is comprehensive. 

There are layers of learning that need to occur before a student is ready for a health science career. And as students continue through the program, all those layers build upon each other and get increasingly advanced.

“As sophomores, students study more general topics. Courses cover the history of healthcare, healthcare law, anatomy and physiology, nutrition, and first aid,” explains Dr. Savitzky. “During their junior year, students focus on the clinical skills. And as seniors, they learn the administrative tasks that a medical assistant performs. These include appointment scheduling, patient reception, triaging, insurance-related tasks, as well as résumé writing and preparation for the national certification exams.”

“Students come back to visit. They tell me that the program gave them a very solid foundation to help them in their studies,” says Dr. Savitsky.

Students get hands-on experience.

In addition to book learning, the students regularly conduct activities that let them practice essential skills, such as vital sign measurements, venipuncture, capillary puncture, ECG testing, urinalysis, pediatric measurements and visual acuity testing, and pulmonary function testing.

Prior to completing the program, “students are offered the opportunity to participate in volunteer internships with local healthcare facilities to see healthcare practice in the real world,” says Dr. Savitzky. This allows students to fine-tune their areas of interest, get a glimpse into working in a health science career, and establish relationships with potential employers.

Nicholas County Career and Technical Center – Craigsville, West Virginia

As the only CTE school in Nicholas County, Nicholas County Career and Technical Center has been readying students for nursing careers since its inception 30 years ago. While the school offers nine different career paths to its 300 students (who come from two different feeder schools), the nursing program fills up quickly. The nursing program is known for its use of cutting-edge learning technology, such as wearable age simulation suits that enable students to experience a variety of age-related physical challenges.

“Healthcare classes are very popular at our school,” says Mandy Kessler, a health science career education instructor at Nicholas County CTE. “All of our students go through an application and interview process to be accepted into our programs, and this year I had over 60 applicants for the 20 spots in my class.” Mandy chalks that demand up to several defining factors of the program.

Classrooms become companies.

“Students in all of our CTE courses are part of Simulated Workplace, an educational initiative in West Virginia that allows students to transform their classrooms into real-world companies,” explains Mandy. “Students are assigned roles just as they would be in the workplace. They are expected to carry out these roles, such as director of nursing, nursing assistant, safety manager, etc.” This setup helps students take charge of their role in their education. They get an idea of what their workplace environment could be like.

Some healthcare classes help students get ahead by also providing high school credits.

“Once a student completes two years, or four semesters, of the health science course, they receive a science credit because we teach so much anatomy, physiology, and other science concepts,” explains Mandy.

They also receive an English credit that replaces a credit they’d normally receive at their home high school. “Within the curriculum of the nursing course is required content that very closely mirrors the requirements of their English 12 credit requirements, and the English assignments are embedded seamlessly into the nursing content,” says Mandy. “This frees the students up for at least two class periods their senior year, and they can take honors or AP courses or other electives they may not have had time to take otherwise.”

For example, Mandy recalls that because of the extra course credits a student received from finishing the standard course, she had room in her schedule to come back to the program. When she came back, she was able to complete the pharmacy technician certification class and test for it at the end of the school year. “This means she’ll be dually certified and can work her choice of either of the jobs and make a livable wage without setting foot in college,” explains Mandy. “Or she can go onto school, work while enrolled so she doesn’t have massive student loans, and be a step ahead of others in her class that may not have taken a program like this in high school.”

Student grants are available.

“We try really hard each year to have grant money available. We try to pay for the students’ certification exams, which can become costly. They are sometimes as much as $200 to $300 per exam. The grants make it so the course and certification never costs the student anything,” says Mandy. This ultimately makes it more feasible for students to leave the program and begin a health science career with certification.

Chippewa Valley High Schools – Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin

Serving students from multiple high schools in the Chippewa Valley area of Wisconsin, Bobbly Scanlon, a nursing educator with Dove Healthcare, teaches courses on becoming a certified nursing assistant as well as various CPR, assisted living, and memory care courses. During her three decades of teaching, Scanlon has honed in on what works in the classroom. Programs are structured to create the most successful experience for her students.  

Day and evening courses are available.

Bobby has seen an enrollment increase in the certified nursing assistant courses. In order to serve as many students as possible, courses are offered at various times to work around students’ schedules. “We offer day and evening schedules. That works for them while they work a job or go to school,” says Bobby. Her classes include students as young as 15, high school juniors and seniors, and adults.

Students walk in the shoes of the patient.

In hopes of helping her students better understand their older patients, Bobby relies on the RealCare™ Geriatric Simulator from Realityworks that lets the kids physically experience what it’s like to be elderly by replicating limited tactile sensations; impaired hearing, vision, and mobility; stroke paralysis; and geriatric skin conditions.

“I definitely feel the Geriatric Simulator has helped the students build empathy and compassion for those residents,” explains Bobby. “That is something that is difficult to teach. I often hear the words ‘so that’s what so-and-so is seeing’ or ‘no wonder he has trouble breathing’ from my students.”

Students get equal time in the classroom and the labs.

Giving students the opportunity to actually practice on real patients is crucial. “The majority of the learning in the healthcare field happens working with people. They take what’s learned from the classroom to the people,” says Bobby. “The course I teach is 120 hours. My students get equal parts classroom and labs. In labs they’re practicing the hands-on skills needed to work the 40 to 50 hours of clinical time with actual elders.” Schools need to “allow for greater clinical time versus keeping students in front of a computer or in a classroom,” she says.

The Takeaway

Schools interested in starting courses related to the healthcare industry should note that these three schools have several things in common: They each give students a solid foundation for work in the healthcare industry. They also provide a taste of the work before students have to commit to it. Students leave their programs with certification, having had hands-on experience while practicing skills on each other and actual patients. All three programs rely on the Geriatric Simulator to build empathy and understanding in older patients. As Bobby Scanlon, from Dove Healthcare, says, all of this develops healthcare workers who enter the field “providing the quality care we, as human beings, need and want.”

Want to know more about the healthcare careers available to high schoolers? Check out this infographic with some of the fastest-growing occupations:

 Health care careers infographic

How Three Amazing Schools Are Preparing High School Kids for Health Science Careers