By Michelle Price
Special to the UCBJ
COOKEVILLE – Cookeville Regional Medical Center (CRMC) and the Putnam County School System (PCSS) have partnered to bring healthcare careers into middle schools across the county. On Friday Prescott South Middle School was the site of the first of five Eighth Grade Health Science Career Fairs that will be held throughout September.
The idea for the health science career fair was born in a regional study on the labor market completed by the Highlands Initiative. Angel Lewis, CRMC senior vice president of human resources, and Jeff Slagle, PCSS career and technical education program coordinator, serve as co-chairs of the Highlands Initiative’s Health and Science sub-committee and received copies of the report.
“They did a regional study on what the hot pathways were going to be,” said Slagle. “Right now, we have four hot pathways in the Upper Cumberland. They are Advanced Manufacturing, Information Technology, Health Science, and Education and Training.”
The study looked at the regional job and labor outlook, what are the deficiencies as far as how many people are going to be retiring; what is the turnover rate; what’s happening with those positions and how hard are they to fill.
Slagle was excited when Lewis approached him earlier this year about partnering with CRMC to hold health science career fairs at each of the middle schools.
“What we talk about all the time in that committee is unemployment is hovering at 3 – 4%, and Angel and I both know that anybody able to work right now is working, but she has around 150-200 openings,” said Slagle.
“Health Science right now is, in my opinion, probably the hottest because there are the most openings,” added Slagle. “Another part, that’s a little difficult too, is the education and training that goes with it. That is the reason it’s so important for us to get the kids exposed to it at this level.”
Each of the nine booths describes a career option available in the health sciences field. Each one has a sign that tells the students what they have to do education and training wise to get the job when they finish school, whether it is a four-year degree, pre-professional, two-year degree, credential, or certificate, so students will know if they want to do a particular job, how long they will need to spend in training.
Not all of the positions are in healthcare. CRMC has over 2,700 current employees in over 500 different job positions ranging from lab techs and nurses to accountants and human resources.
“This is just one of the specific career fairs we do,” said Slagle. “We do a career fair with multiple businesses in November at Hooper Eblen open to any business in the Upper Cumberland.”
Career fairs are held in the fall to allow the students to decide on a career path they wish to follow before they participate in the program of study fair and plan their high school schedule in the spring.
The partnership between CRMC and PCSS doesn’t end with the career fair. Health sciences is a significant component of PCSS’s career and technical education (CTE) program.
“We have three instructors at Cookeville High School, two at Upperman High School and one at Monterey High School,” explained Slagle. “We have anatomy and physiology, diagnostic medicine, therapeutic services, health science education, and then we also have clinicals.
“We have kids in those clinicals that are getting work-based learning experiences because they go to the hospital, the nursing homes, home health, and they actually work in those settings with a mentor so that they can get those job in-bedded skills. Usually, that’s at a junior or senior level,” added Slagle. “So they are actually getting on the job training so that when they advance out and go to post-secondary – some of them get their CNA in high school, their certified nursing assistant industry certification – they’ll get their CNA going through those programs in high school and they will work as a CNA as they are going to Tech to get their four year degree to be an RN.”
CRMC works closely with the health sciences instructors and their students. There is an internship program that is open to students from all three high schools.
“We probably place around 30 students each year in those internship opportunities,” said Slagle. “The great thing about the hospital, when we place a health sciences intern at the hospital, they get to work in different departments, so they get a well-rounded portfolio to make decisions about where they might want to work when they finish their education.”
The health sciences career fair is a well-rounded experience for the students giving them hands-on experiences and opportunities to explore different areas. Booths covered a variety of areas such as physical therapy, where the students experienced exercises that help patients recover mobility faster, pulmonary where students were able to view a smoker’s lung versus a healthy lung, and surgery where students were able to experience what performing a laparoscopic procedure is like.
Even in the rapidly changing world, health care is one field that students never have to worry about going away.
“If you’re an RN, you will always find a job, and it’s a good-paying job,” added Lewis. “So, it’s not like you when hear of plant’s closing. You may hear of hospitals closing especially the small ones, but we’re a really large hospital, and they can always find a job. If you want a job, you can find a job in healthcare.”