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Connecting the dots between high school and future health careers…

After ten sessions over the course of eight months, 24 Havana High School students were recently recognized for completing the first Havana Health Career Opportunities (HHCO) program. Mason District Hospital—in partnership with University of Illinois Extension, Havana High School, City of Havana, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria and Spoon River College—provided the program with the goal of exposing youth to careers in healthcare, both locally and regionally.

The program is critical for both the youth and the community, as Mason County has been designated a “Health Professional Shortage Area” by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. Providing career exploration opportunities to youth aids professional recruitment and creates the opportunity for improved health outcomes in the community.

Opening Up Opportunities
HHCO was designed to help students connect the dots between high school and their future career. We worked with area healthcare professionals to provide their expertise and experience about their personal career paths, giving the students a feel for their current job and encouraging them in their own career exploration. The students committed to attending the sessions and out-of-town tours on their days off from school and after school hours. These activities incorporated job shadowing, networking, soft skills improvement, and an introduction to the professional credentials required for such positions.

A key part of this effort involved providing more opportunities for young people to explore different careers. Throughout the program, students met more than 75 different health professionals in Havana, Canton, Peoria and Springfield. Nurses, doctors, medical students and paramedics were among the health professionals students expected to meet. Hospital operations staff, flight nurses, EMTs, physical and occupational therapy assistants, bioengineers and anatomical coordinators were among the careers new to the average student.

“The hospital is much more than doctors and nurses,” said one participant, Kimi Oest. “It is interesting to me that there are so many people involved in making every task run smoothly. Seeing what all of these people do every day opened up endless possibilities of job opportunities.”

The HHCO program included elements to introduce health professionals in Havana who can serve as “health career coaches,” soft skills training essential to a successful career, time spent on a college campus, and time spent in a variety of health workplace settings. Each interaction provided a valuable introduction to building a personal career identity and career pathway.

At Jump Simulation in Peoria, Havana High School students gained new perspectives on how innovation is impacting healthcare. Bioengineers and anatomical coordinators were among the careers new to the average student.

Establishing a Career Identity
Research indicates that throughout middle and high school, youth should be engaged in establishing a vocational identity. Indeed, aiding youth in career exploration and decision making is a critical need, as recent research shows that youth who are indecisive about their career plans have significantly lower wages in adulthood.

Both students and parents valued the programming because it opened their eyes to lots of different career opportunities in the medical field. Students commented that it was very beneficial to see the different careers and what is required for each field, and it helped them realize which may be a good fit for them personally, and those areas that were not.

Our experiences in Havana prompted new programming interests in Fulton County. During the summer, 18 high school youth from five school districts in Fulton County are participating in a six-week program at Graham Hospital. The programming approach is similar to Havana—a partnership between the SIU School of Medicine, University of Illinois Extension, University of Illinois College of Medicine and Graham Health Systems—designed to provide experiences to help youth identify prospective career pathways. iBi

Kathie Brown is a community and economic development educator with the University of Illinois Extension, Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit.