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Class Helps KCK Teens Toward Healthcare Careers

May 09, 2018

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The University of Kansas Health System and the University of Kansas Medical Center have teamed with the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools (USD 500) on a program to help high school students who are under-represented in healthcare fields learn about careers beyond the usual roles of physicians and nurses.

Over several days this spring, students from F.L. Schlagle and J.C. Harmon attended Health Science III classes at the main hospital and university.

The program, called Health Science Academy, allows students to learn from experts at the health system and university, highlighting clinical and academic departments. They are exposed to fields they might not have otherwise looked into, such as laboratory science or sports medicine.

"Providing a behind-the-scenes view of the hospital helps humanize a complex and intimidating environment," says Jeff Novorr, our health system's vice president of support services. "The high school students see how we work together in a way that's not experienced in the classroom."

"We want more students from under-represented backgrounds to get involved in health science," adds project co-investigator Maria Alonso-Luaces, PhD, who also is the director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion within the University of Kansas School of Medicine.

"We want students to know these careers aren't limited to being doctors or nurses," she explains. "We're also empowering the teens by showing them that their work in our class can help change their community."

Academy's origin

The academy evolved from Teachers and Students for Community-Oriented Research and Education (T-Score), which is supported by a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health. T-Score's goal is to help classroom teachers create engaging health science lessons relevant to the school's community.

The idea to bring the high schools' Health Science III classes to the main campus evolved from talks between Alonso-Luaces, who is part of T-Score's administration, and Tim Murrell, EdD, USD 500 coordinator for career and technical education programs.

"A medicine career for any student is a long shot," says Alonso-Luaces. "We're presenting the teens a way into a profession they can access right out of high school, with an undergraduate degree or a certificate program. For some it may just be an intermediate step; for others, it can be the start of a great career."

About 20 students from each school attended classes on 7 units, which are taught by university and health system volunteers from a variety of disciplines. The units include hidden careers in healthcare, community-based research, nursing careers, health science laboratory research, CPR certification and a unit specifically for each school.

"This new format encourages the students' participation in health science," says LeAnne Richardson, who leads a class from Schlagle. "With classes outside the classroom, it's also easier to teach my students employability skills based on real-life experiences."

Discussions are currently underway about adding two other KCK schools to the program for the fall semester.

"Healthcare careers are perceived as being clinical. But we need virtually every trade skill for our health system to function safely and efficiently," says Novorr. "The Health Science Academy gave students and inside view of patient care positions and non-clinical support roles and how they all work together to support patient care."

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