By Jennifer Wohlleb
More than a decade ago when health care professionals in Hopkins County looked toward the future, they saw a potential shortage of nurses that would challenge the area. So they came up with a plan that eventually linked Hopkins County Schools with Trover Health System and Madisonville Community College to make sure that shortage never happened.
The result of the joint effort was creation of the health sciences program at both of Hopkins County’s high schools.
PHOTO: Hopkins County Central High School seniors Jaron Embry, left, and Nick Adcock practice putting pressure hose on a “patient” as part of the district’s health sciences program, which was created to avert a nursing shortage in the area.
The program consists of a series of dual-credit classes geared toward nursing; if complete, students graduate high school with a Medicaid Nurse Assistant certification, 16-18 hours of college credit and priority enrollment at MCC. The community college picks up the cost of the dual-credit classes as part of its tuition waiver plan.
“Seamless transition from secondary to postsecondary has been the focus of career and technical education for quite a number of years,” said Mary Chandler, Hopkins County Schools’ career education coordinator. “We don’t duplicate. If you’re learning it in high school, there’s no need to duplicate it later. That has certainly been the case here because it’s actually the MCC curriculum that is being taught here in the high school.”
In addition to the classes at Hopkins Central and Madison North high schools, taught by registered nurses from MCC, Hopkins County students may also receive hands-on training through the First Step nursing program, a competitive work-based program administered by Trover that accepts only six to eight students twice a year. Students leave school after lunch and go to the Regional Medical Center five days a week for a 12-week period.
“The most popular part of the program is their shadowing experiences, which are scheduled every Friday,” Chandler said. “Students get to shadow nurses in many different departments throughout the hospital, including pediatrics, dialysis, neonatal intensive care unit, critical care unit, home health, mother/baby, acute rehabilitation, emergency department, same-day surgery, transitional care unit, etc.”
Hopkins Central High School senior Nick Adcock, who plans to become a pediatrician or nurse practitioner, said participating in the First Steps program will be invaluable to his future.
“It was an honor to be in it because it’s so competitive,” he said. “You can put that not only on a college application, but a job application and that really sets you apart because you were one of only six people who got in the whole class.”
First Steps student Megan Hulsey said she has received her Medicaid Nurse Aide certification and is ready to get a job at a nursing home while studying at MCC to become a registered nurse.
“I heard about this program and I knew it would put me a step ahead of everyone else so I decided to take advantage of it,” said Hulsey, who is a senior. “I’m glad I got the opportunity. This is all I’ve talked about for the past two years since I first took my medical terminology class here.”
Kim Woodall, the health sciences instructor at Hopkins Central, called the program “awesome.”
“These kids get 16-18 credit hours before they even leave high school; they finish their nurse aide certification so a lot of them go to work in the nursing home right after they leave high school,” she said. “They have to have that certification before they can even apply to the nursing program at MCC, so this gets that out of the way.”
The popularity of the program has grown since its beginning 12 years ago, as has its success. Since 2008, enrollment in the health sciences program has increased from 159 students to 417 this year. Nearly 75 percent of the students who complete Hopkins County’s health sciences program have continued to study in a health-related area after graduation. In addition, of the 126 students who have completed the First Steps program, 80 percent of them have continued their postsecondary education in health care fields.
“We try to keep up with where these students go,” said Carol Phebus , assistant director of Trover Health System West Area Health Education Center. “I have seen a lot of them come to work at the hospital, even after they finish the First Step program, some not necessarily in the nursing program. We have one who is working as a cashier in the cafeteria but is going to college to become a nurse.”
The state of the economy is also factoring into students’ decision making.
“We went from eight in our nursing program last year to 20,” Woodall said. “We have two separate classes now because they know that the jobs are out there.”
And those jobs benefit everyone, Woodall said, citing the example of two students who earned their nurse aide certification through First Steps.
“They went to work right away in a nursing home, and they’re still working in a nursing home getting ready to go to nursing school,” she said. “So they’re working, giving back to the community. We’re reaping what we’re sowing, in a good way.”