Volume 26, No. 2: T-E-A-M! (Together Everyone Achieves More)

Secondary Health Science Education—A Cross-State System

Scott Hess, Former Branch Chief, Office of Career Technical and Adult Education (OCTAE), U.S. Department of Education

THE NEED—In response to an aging population and the adoption of the Affordable Care Act, the demand for healthcare services may soon become overwhelming (National Center for the Analysis of Healthcare Data, Workforce Demand Analysis, October 2013). Between 2010 and 2020, nearly 7.5 million health workers will be needed nationally to fill new jobs and to replace workers who leave their jobs (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Employment Matrix, employment by industry, occupation, and percent distribution, 2010 and projected 2020). This predicted workforce shortage is especially critical in rural and underserved communities. Responding to this national crisis is putting a tremendous strain on postsecondary institutions to graduate many more physicians, nurses, and allied health practitioners. To meet the projected workforce needs, the number of students entering the health science education pipeline must increase dramatically, and, likewise, the number of these programs must also increase to accommodate more students. Traditionally, students have entered the health science pipeline after graduating from high school or later as adults. Without any prior preparation or experience, many of these potential students lack the knowledge and skill foundations required to 1) make informed health career selections and 2) meet the rigorous demands of postsecondary health science education.

Across the United States, there are 26,407 public secondary schools ranging from large suburban and urban high schools to thousands of small rural schools (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2015). Digest of Education Statistics, 2013 (NCES 2015-011)). Many of these schools do not offer health science programs. The total number of high school students is over 14.9 million (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2015). Digest of Education Statistics, 2013 (NCES 2015-011)). Career interest inventories given by school counselors as early as middle school indicate that healthcare is one of the top career interest areas. However, according to the Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education at the U.S. Department of Education, the total number of high school students who participated in health science programs in 2014 was only 299,368 (https://perkins.ed.gov/pims/DataExplorer/CTEConcentrator).

A SOLUTION—The National Consortium for Health Science Education (NCHSE), founded in 1991, is an organization of state and local secondary and postsecondary health science education leaders and healthcare industry representatives. Since the organization’s founding, the mission of NCHSE has been to provide leadership promoting high-quality health science education programs through collaboration among educators, the healthcare industry, policymakers, professional organizations, and a publishers’ coalition. Early on, with support from the Departments of Labor and Education, NCHSE was funded to create a model health science career pathway for high school students that would seamlessly connect them to postsecondary education, providing them an opportunity to enter the health science “pipeline” while still in high school. As a result, high school teachers (for the first time) sat down with college faculty and industry partners at the national level to answer the question, “What are the foundational knowledge and skills needed for high school students to be successful in any postsecondary health science program?” Through this collaboration, the first set of high school National Health Science Standards (NHSS) was established. The NHSS provided a clear and consistent understanding of industry and postsecondary expectations for teachers and students. The standards were designed to provide the essential knowledge and skills common across all health professions to prepare and increase the number of students who are college and career ready. The standards have been updated and revalidated several times—most recently in May of 2015. The NHSS and objectives can be found at www.healthscienceconsortium.org.

CREATING A COMMON SYSTEM—Nearly all healthcare workers must be certified, licensed, or registered to practice. This results in common prescribed programs of preparation in postsecondary education. The NHSS were created to provide the same needed consistency at the high school level. Currently, however, not all states or local programs utilize the NHSS. The resulting inconsistency among secondary programs creates confusion for postsecondary educators and industry partners. Just as postsecondary educational institutions must be consistent as they prepare students for the workforce, high schools need a common system to ensure consistency in preparation of students for seamless entry into postsecondary education.

Assessments leading to certifications, licensure, or registration are essential for postsecondary students to demonstrate competency before they enter the workforce. Similarly, an assessment for high school students that demonstrates NHSS competency is valuable to demonstrate they are prepared for the rigors of postsecondary programs. The NCHSE has created a knowledge-based assessment aligned with the NHSS that is delivered online and designed to evaluate student competency. The NHSS are supported and recognized by the healthcare organizations listed below, and the certificate of completion of the National Health Science Assessment will demonstrate student achievement and preparation for postsecondary education.

  • Tri-Council for Nursing

    • American Association of Colleges of Nursing

    • American Nursing Association

    • American Organization of Nurse Executives

    • National League for Nursing

  • Health Professions Network (HPN) (represents over 185 allied health professions)

  • American Medical Association (pending)

In addition to the support of these outstanding healthcare organizations, health science education programs are encouraged to affiliate with HOSA-Future Health Professionals, a national career and technical student organization (CTSO). The NHSS are fully integrated into the HOSA Competitive Events Program. There are fifty-seven competitive events available for state associations and local chapters to offer HOSA members a wide range of opportunities to develop, practice, refine, and be recognized for their ability to demonstrate their knowledge and/or skills at state and national conferences. Events are organized into six categories: 1) health science, 2) health professions, 3) emergency preparedness, 4) leadership, 5) teamwork, and 6) recognition. HOSA’s ultimate intent is to provide tools, resources, and unique opportunities for classroom instructors to engage, motivate, instruct, and retain HOSA members as next-generation health professionals in their communities, states, and the nation. Students who participate in HOSA and are exposed to the NHSS through classroom instruction and competitive events participation graduate high school ready for college and careers and are prepared to transition seamlessly from education to careers (www.hosa.org).

SUMMARY—Participation by all states in a common national high school health science education system organized around the National Health Science Standards and recognized by the health industry and postsecondary partners will result in a continuous, growing supply of well-prepared students entering the workforce. Successful collaboration at the local level between high schools, postsecondary partners, and healthcare employers that includes open, ongoing lines of communication is the key to an effective, consistent career pathway. To provide more information about the National Health Science Career Pathway System, the National Health Science Standards, and the National Health Science Assessment, NCHSE will sponsor the 2016 National Health Science Curriculum Conference, October 11-14, in Louisville, Kentucky, designed for secondary teachers, postsecondary faculty, school counselors, and CTE administrators. Information about the conference can be found at http://www.healthscienceconsortium.org/conferencesevents/.

For more information, contact the author at scott.cteservices@gmail.com.