Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Students Get a Head Start on Careers in Health Services; Many Northeast Florida Schools Offer Programs That Give Youths First-Hand Experience in the Health Care Industry

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Students Get a Head Start on Careers in Health Services; Many Northeast Florida Schools Offer Programs That Give Youths First-Hand Experience in the Health Care Industry

Article excerpt

Byline: MARY KELLI PALKA

YULEE - Hailey Hallmark sees herself studying microbiology one day.

But the 17-year-old doesn't have to wait until college next year to see if it's a field she'd actually like.

After a semester of studying health-related topics in her Yulee High School classroom, she's getting hands-on experience in the real world. Two mornings a week at Baptist Medical Center Nassau. Two mornings at a nursing home.

She said she hopes "to get a taste of what I could possibly get into."

Hailey is participating in Yulee High's certified nursing assistant program. When she graduates, she likely will have already taken her test to become a certified nursing assistant. She could choose to go immediately to work in a place like a hospital or nursing home. But Hailey says she plans to go to a college, where she'll likely study microbiology and may eventually become a pathologist.

Some of her classmates are considering working as nursing assistants while they go on to college.

In 2007, the Legislature passed the Career and Professional Education Act, calling for career and professional academies in each school district. As of last year, health services were the most popular such programs, followed by information technology. Some schools have had health services-related classes for decades, and newer ones have since been added. Clay County will add one of the latest, at OakLeaf High School next year.

The idea behind the career programs is in part for schools to engage students in something that interests them early on and to help provide an educated work force for local businesses.

Every district in Northeast Florida has at least one health service program, which vary by school. Some offer health services more as an elective, offered one year. Others put a medical-related focus in most classes, including core classes such as English, math and science, beginning in ninth grade. At least one school starts in middle school.

Yulee High offers its certified nursing assistant program to mostly seniors. The students use four electives in 12th grade to spend half the year in the classroom - learning medical terminology, anatomy, physiology and nursing assistant skills, said teacher Cheryl Wilkes, a registered nurse.

Then in the second half of the year, the students get into the field. They change bed sheets, bathe and feed patients and check vital signs. They earn class credit.

Wilkes said she has 12 students this year but started three years ago with half that number.

Across the county at Hilliard Middle-Senior High, the students don't take the certified nursing assistant test. Instead, they get a broad overview - typically during their sophomore year - of the health industry, including spending mornings in the field.

Cole Hodges, a 2003 Hilliard Middle-Senior High graduate, participated in the health-related program. He now works at Baptist Medical Center Nassau.

He said participating in the high school program helped him learn he didn't want to work with babies, where the patients can't talk about their concerns, or in the emergency room, where people come through so quickly.

Hodges prefers working in geriatrics.

"I want to be able to communicate with them," he said of the patients. …

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