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Nursing a new generation of health workers: A union program provides a pipeline

Training Fund's Roxborough STE(A)M Scholars Profiled in Philadelphia Inquirer Feature

Full-text article with slideshow available at (link)

Philadelphia, PA - June 22nd, 2016 - text by Jane M. Von Bergen/Philadelphia InquirerAmir Showell, 15, wants to be a dermatologist when he grows up. "I'm interested in whiteheads, blackheads," said Showell, whose teenage complexion, by the way, is clear of all of the above.

Too bad U.S. Health and Human Services official J. Nadine Gracia wasn't at Philadelphia's Roxborough High School last week to meet Showell, who, as a freshman, personifies the aims of a $6.4 million federal project spearheaded by her office.

"I like medicine, but deep-down surgery, I can't stand that," Showell said. "I like science, and I'm interested in helping people."

Last year, HHS's Office of Minority Health launched its National Workforce Diversity Pipeline Program in hopes of attracting more young people like Showell, who is African American, into health and health-related tech professions. Of the 14 grants handed out, one, for $474,500, came to Philadelphia, to the District 1199C Training and Upgrading Fund and its partnership with Roxborough High. The Fund is a labor-management education enterprise involving 50 area health-care and human-service employers and District 1199C of the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, which is part of AFSCME.

"It's important that the health workforce is responsive to the needs of the communities it serves," Gracia, who directs the Office of Minority Health, said in a statement. "Diversity in the workforce improves quality of care and communications between providers and patients and helps to reduce health disparities."

The idea "is to not only entice people, but to qualify people of color, to spark their motivations that this is something they can do, and then make sure they can do it," said Cheryl Feldman, executive director of the Training Fund.

Here's how it works: Roxborough High School is already an "academies" high school, meaning that its students are divided into schools within the school based on their interests in broad career sectors, while employer partners contribute expertise and mentoring. The 1199C program is incorporated into Roxborough's science, biotech, and kinesiology academy. The more students that get into science, technology, engineering, and math, the more will find their way into health professions, the thinking goes.

Project-based learning, in which concepts are taught in conjunction with specific projects rather than in the abstract, is already an academies hallmark. But the 1199C program puts it on steroids, with grant money supplying extra resources - tutoring, mentoring, and visits to hospitals and labs. And the grant lasts five years, following students to college.

Exposure is first.

Last year, for example, students visited the medical-simulation lab at Drexel University's medical school. They talked to an actress playing a patient who "fainted" and had to be diagnosed. They even delivered babies from a birth-giving mannequin.

The money also refurbished a classroom, turning it into the "Rox-CITe laboratory." Last week, under the guidance of a Drexel electrical-engineering doctoral student hired by the program, a handful of Roxborough juniors were wiring an Arduino "breadboard," used for making an experimental model of an electric circuit. Arduino is open-source software, an electronic prototyping platform, that can be used to create electronic objects. The goal Thursday was to teach the juniors how to write software that would tell a light to flash at intervals when a button was pressed.

When the bulb on Onyea Cropper's breadboard lit up, her eyes did, too. "If I wanted to study this in college, would I go for computer science?" Cropper, 16, of North Philadelphia, asked the instructor, Jeff Gregorio.

"Either that or electrical engineering," he replied.

"I think I know what I'm going to do," she said, her face bright with excitement.

When Cropper does get into college, 1199C's program will follow her. Research shows, Feldman said, that young people enter college but often lose their way in freshman year. "Have you heard of the posse model?" she asked. It's "where there is a cohort" of students, who, by staying together, support one another and are more successful, she said.

Mentoring will continue, as will programming and get-togethers, especially for those who stay local.

In North Philadelphia, John Lasky, chief human-resources officer for the Temple University Health System, already has his eye on the Roxborough graduates. The millennial workforce, he said, is used to diversity, and expects it. Employers who don't have it are at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting top talent. Beyond that, "there's currently a physician shortage, and there will soon be a nursing shortage. There's a shortage in all of health care," Lasky said, "so now is a perfect time for 1199C's program.”

Collaborating STE(A)M Scholars Program organizations include District 1199C Training and Upgrading Fund, the Independence Blue Cross Simulation Center at Drexel University College of Medicine, Drexel University’s ExCITe Center, Drexel University’s Center for Labor Market Policy, Philadelphia Academies Inc., The School District of Philadelphia, Temple University College of Engineering STEM Outreach & Education, and the US2020 STEM Mentorship program


Sarah Robbins
215-568-2220 ext 5513

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