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In a unique effort to jump-start young people into healthcare professions, including nursing, one philanthropy will provide $250 million to create special high schools to prepare students for healthcare careers .

In January, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced an initiative to pair public education systems and hospitals in ten communities nationwide, ranging from Boston, MA, to Demopolis, AL. “By combining classroom learning with hands-on experience, these specialized healthcare high schools will prepare students for careers with opportunities for growth and advancement,” says Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and 108th mayor of New York City, in a press release.

According to Bloomberg Philanthropies, each school, whether newly established through this initiative or a revamp of an existing school, will offer students robust academic programming, specialized healthcare classes, work-based learning at the partner health system, and the opportunity to earn credentials and certifications.

Immediately upon graduation, a press release notes that students can enter healthcare jobs within the partner healthcare system or advance their healthcare career through post-secondary education. As part of this initiative, all health system partners have committed to providing job opportunities for students who complete the graduation requirements of their programs.

Memorial Hermann Staff Teach Alongside High School Teachers

At Houston-based Memorial Hermann Health System, the initiative can help address the nursing shortage, according to Bryan Sisk, DNP, RN, chief nursing executive at the system. “The pressure is on to be innovative and look at unique ways to solve this,” he says.


Bryan Sisk, DNP, RN, chief nursing executive at Houston-based Memorial Hermann Health System

An initial $31 million investment from Bloomberg Philanthropies will enable Memorial Hermann and the Aldine Independent School District to build the Health Education and Learning High School or HEAL High School. Specifically, according to Sisk, the program will refurbish the existing ninth-grade campus at Nimitz High School, creating a mock hospital environment. What students see in their daily interactions at school with the exam rooms “will be the same specification they’ll see when they start their work-based learning programs,” he says.

“The idea behind this partnership is to immerse them,” said Sisk in an interview. Students will start with a summer program before they enter ninth grade and continue it every summer, including the summer after graduating high school. They will participate in job shadowing and rotate through the hospital to see five different career pathways, including nursing, imaging, rehabilitation (physical and occupational therapy), pharmacy, and non-clinical administration.

Starting in ninth grade, Memorial Hermann staff members will teach alongside the high school teachers. “We will create a four-year relationship with these individuals so that we can make sure they have the tools to be successful,” Sisk explains. When students turn 16, usually in the 11th grade, they’ll have an opportunity to start their work experience at Memorial Hermann, according to Sisk.

Sisk hopes this program will excite students about nursing and eventually help stem the tide of nurses leaving the profession. “I think we can turn that tide because these individuals will be immersed in healthcare and nursing over a four-year window. They’ll have nurses working directly with them. They’ll get to know nurses; they’ll get to see what the job entails.” What’s more, after they graduate from high school, they’ll be followed for a year to maintain a connection and help them be successful, notes Sisk.

A side benefit of the program involves promoting health equity. “If you’re truly going to tackle health equity, there’s no better way to do that than to go and get individuals who live in that community, who are invested in that community, and get them on a career track where they can earn a living wage,” Sisk says. They can then, he notes, “encourage future generations to go down this pathway.”

Sisk stresses that the effort is a partnership involving the leaders of Memorial Hermann, Aldine ISD, and the community. “It is something that everybody’s rallying around,” he says. “I think this is going to turn into something that we can do on a much larger scale in Houston,” Sisk says.

Louis Pilla
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