Written By: Sydney Parker, foundry10
On a weekday morning last spring, a health sciences instructor at a local college put a dozen eggs in a pot to boil. She was not preparing breakfast. She was preparing make-shift anatomy simulators for an ultrasound training lab. With limitations on funding for certain training materials, this educator had to get creative to give her students the best preparation possible for a career in radiology. In this case, that meant practicing patient exams on hard-boiled eggs.
The gaps in funding for this one program mirror the chronic underinvestment in the healthcare workforce as a whole. Longstanding systemic shortfalls coupled with the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic has driven many dedicated healthcare workers out of the profession.
According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine on healthcare worker burnout, 52% of nurses and 20% of doctors say they are planning to leave their clinical practice. Shortages of more than one million nurses are projected by the end of 2022.
While this exodus of talented healthcare workers is distressing, it presents an incredible opportunity for the next generation of health sciences students. For example, job growth for occupational therapy assistants and aides is projected to increase 34% by 2030, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That’s about 8,800 job openings each year, on average, over the decade. Like other jobs in the healthcare field, many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who will transfer to different occupations or retire.
“Training to be in healthcare is hard work mentally and emotionally, but so very worth it. Every day you go to work to try to make things better for other people, have the privilege of being witness to some of the most profound moments of patients’ lives, get to work with smart and caring colleagues with shared values, and will always be needed. It is deeply meaningful work.”
How to Support the Whole Health Sciences Student
At foundry10, we often use our flexible funding structure to fill a wide range of gaps in education, including support for supplies, research, student pathways, and more. Through our partnerships with community colleges, career and technical education programs, and the INSIGHT High School Program at HIPRC, we learned that the needs of health sciences students go far beyond books and tuition.
To make a real impact, we need to provide holistic support. Each health sciences student is a whole person with individual strengths and needs that evolve as they pursue their education. From exam fees to bus fare, here are a few ways we can invest in future healthcare workers and, by extension, the diverse communities they serve.
Cover Unexpected Externship Expenses
Healthcare workers need experience training in the field with real patients. However, these externships and rotations come with unexpected costs. For example, the healthcare facility may be located far from home or school. This puts the burden on the student to come up with money for gas and parking or bus fare.
Depending on the age or conditions of the population served at the training site, students may be required to get additional immunizations or special masks. The funding pathways for these expenses are not always clear.
Fund Certification Exams and Test Prep
One program administrator we spoke to explained that while students may be able to successfully complete and fund their nursing and medical assistant programs, many have no resources left over for certification prep courses and exams. The registration fee for the NCLEX certification/licensure exam is $200 and non-refundable. An online test prep course for the exam can run over $500. Covering these gaps in education expenses can help health sciences students reach the finish line.
Provide Medical Terminology and Soft Skills Curriculum
Through our conversations with instructors, we learned about students’ struggles with soft-skill development and medical terminology in a high school nursing assistant program. For the many English language learners pursuing careers in healthcare, completing the necessary medical terminology coursework is an exceptional challenge.
Students benefit from access to the most current curriculum and support materials, but these are not always within the scope of available resources at the CTE high school level. For students planning to go straight from a 2-year program into the healthcare workforce, some practice building soft skills can facilitate the job search and ease the transition.
Support Early Exposure to Healthcare Careers
Opportunities like the University of Washington INSIGHT High School Program provide young people valuable exposure to the medical and public health fields through mentorship and research projects. The cost of tuition can be out of reach for some students, and scholarships are limited. At foundry10, we were excited to contribute to a high-quality program like INSIGHT and ignite an interest in healthcare career pathways.
“I learned about just how vast the careers within the healthcare community are, and that career paths are not always as straightforward as I initially thought,” said one 2021 INSIGHT alumni.
Simulating the Experience
The medical simulation technology available today is spectacular. Funding tools like ultrasound reproductive organ simulators, radiologic technology, hospital bed trainers, and medical mannequins can be the difference between good-enough and excellent patient care down the line. Instructors we spoke with at community colleges from Mukilteo to Tacoma shared stories of broken or outdated equipment that greatly hindered their ability to prepare students for the field.
The role of health workers in our society is more important than ever. The Health Education team and Career and Technical Education teams at foundry10 look forward to continuing our support of learners entering this exciting field.
foundry10 is an education research organization with a philanthropic focus on expanding ideas about learning and creating direct value for youth. In collaboration with diverse partners, we surface, evaluate, and share opportunities to better support youth learning both inside and outside the classroom. We do this through applied and experimental research, as well as collaborative philanthropy and educational programming rooted in evidence-based best practices.