Five organizations awarded grants
Five Central Louisiana organizations are addressing shortages in the healthcare workforce through projects that are intended to develop an ongoing pool of students interested in entering healthcare careers. The Rapides Foundation awarded grants totaling $4,450,025 under the Future of HealthC.A.R.E. (Career, Academic Readiness and Exploration for Students) Program.
For years, the Foundation has supported the growth of healthcare occupations in postsecondary institutions by funding Healthcare Occupations Program grants. But now, it is making sure students as young as middle school can learn about different types of healthcare careers and get a head start on the skills they need to succeed.
“Shortages in the healthcare workforce remain a critical issue for our region,” said Joe Rosier, President and CEO of The Rapides Foundation. “Projects under the Future of HealthC.A.R.E. grant program will provide an avenue for students to learn about healthcare occupations at an earlier age to prepare them for the academic rigors of healthcare training programs and to build technical skills needed to pursue healthcare careers.”
Under the Future of HealthC.A.R.E. grant, five area organizations are putting programs in place for middle school, junior high and high school students interested in pursuing healthcare careers, and making sure those same students are academically prepared to succeed in postsecondary training programs.
While middle school may seem too young for students to begin considering a career in healthcare, research by the Association for Career and Technical Education suggests career exploration is most effective beginning in middle school. Developmentally, this is the time when students are most open to try new experiences and explore new interests. Plus, giving students hands-on experiences and showing them the variety of healthcare careers available opens up additional choices for students.
“Many of the schools we partner with are in the more rural parts of the state,” said Michelle Elliott, Careers Exploration Coordinator with Central Louisiana Area Health Education Center, which received a five-year, $1,120,000 grant to launch “AHEC of a Career in HealthC.A.R.E,” which includes MedStart and Camp Fast Forward.
MedStart is a program that goes into high school classrooms once a month during the school year. It began in August with 370 students enrolled.
“For many of these students, exposure to a nurse or doctor is only if they need a vaccination or are ill. That is usually the extent of the professionals in healthcare they see or know about,” Elliott said. “With the MedStart program, we can bring healthcare professionals of all varieties to the classroom. There, they can see an individual from their own community, maybe from their same school, talk about their path into a healthcare career.”
Central Louisiana AHEC held Camp Fast Forward, a one-week, parish-based day camp for 120 middle school youth this summer in Rapides, Avoyelles, LaSalle and Winn parishes. Of the students who attended Camp Fast Forward, 47% said they would be “very likely” to enroll in a technical training and/or college course after high school to pursue a career in healthcare.
“They also learned that not all healthcare career paths require a college degree,” Elliott said.
At Northwestern State University, a five-year, $1,166,525 grant from the Foundation will be used to fund Healthcare Academic & Career Exploration (Healthcare ACE), a no-cost program for high school students in Catahoula, Rapides, Allen and Natchitoches parishes intended to raise awareness of and preparation for healthcare careers and academic programs. The program began this fall.
“Our interactive workshops have been developed by faculty from Nursing, Allied Health, Psychology, Addiction Studies and Social Work,” said Steven Gruesbeck, Executive Director of the NSU Healthcare ACE Project. “In small groups, students will engage in project-based learning led by college faculty. Based on prior experience, we’re confident that learning-by-doing is the best way to help students consider new academic and career possibilities.”
Catahoula Parish School Board’s five-year grant in the amount of $453,500 from the Foundation will provide high school graduates the opportunity to earn valued credentials in the health sciences while still in high school. The process begins in middle school with a career interest survey. Students interested in healthcare professions will then be enrolled in a career exploration program in 9th and 10th grades, and begin taking industry-based courses in pharmacy tech, EKG tech or medical assistant in 11th and 12th grades through a partnership with Central Louisiana Technical Community College. When completed, students will have a workforce credential in hand and can begin their healthcare careers.
“Until the Future of HealthC.A.R.E. Program grant opportunity arose, Catahoula students were left with very few options to earn credentials offered in the Health Sciences Jump Start Pathway. This Healthcare Access Initiative will offer Catahoula students a chance not previously afforded while also helping to close the gaps between supply and current employer demands in Central Louisiana,” said Ramona Spence, Supervisor with the Catahoula Parish School District. “With this initiative, courses and credentials will be earned from each student’s school, via online platform, at no cost to the student. Catahoula is appreciative of the opportunity to participate in this initiative through The Rapides Foundation.”
Louisiana State University of Alexandria is using its $1,110,000 five-year grant from the Foundation to fund Future Nurse Summer Camps throughout Central Louisiana and to establish 30 HOSA-Future Health Professionals chapters in middle schools and high schools across the region by 2028.
“The Future Nurse Camp at LSUA was developed in response to the critical nursing shortage in Central Louisiana,” said Dr. Catherine Cormier, RN, CNE, who is the Student Success Coordinator and Program Director for Nursing Grants at LSUA. “Our goal is to increase excitement and passion for a career in nursing among our youth. Participants explore various specialty areas in nursing and practice basic nursing skills under the guidance of nurse faculty and upper level nursing students. It is a fun-filled week for faculty and camp participants. We thoroughly enjoy having the high school students on campus.”
Students enjoyed it, too, writing, “I loved it! Would definitely recommend for anyone who has an interest in nursing.” Final surveys showed 12 of the 15 students who participated in the LSUA camp intend to pursue a career in nursing or healthcare.
The final part of the Future of HealthC.A.R.E. strategy to educate and prepare students for careers in healthcare comes from the $600,000 grant awarded to Louisiana Central for the creation of Healthcare Career Central, a regional healthcare career highway campaign and website for employers, training providers, students, teachers and parents. Visit the website at healthcarecareer-central.com.
“Healthcare Career Central is important for the future of healthcare in our region,” Lafe Jones, Vice President of Louisiana Central, said. “We already have a high demand for healthcare professionals, and the challenge will be even greater in the future. We need to reach that next generation now and expose them to these careers as early as possible. So many good things are already available in our region, from K-12 programs to higher education and training opportunities. We also have great healthcare exploratory opportunities available for junior high through high school students. Our goal is to have the information about resources all in one place that can continue to be updated as new programs develop.”