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Preparing the Next Generation of Healthcare Leaders Through Linked Learning Pathways

September 29, 2021

Linked Learning pathways, regardless of industry theme, are preparing young people to succeed in the workforce. Students are building leadership and teamwork skills through integrated group projects, gaining real world of work experiences through work-based learning and career technical education opportunities, and discovering their passions before they even graduate high school. Even as COVID-19 begins to recede in some of our communities, it is clear that the healthcare industry is still growing and seeking highly skilled workers that represent the communities they serve. Linked Learning is preparing young people to step into these roles, in part thanks to the example set by the Oakland Health Pathways Project.

Independent evaluation by SRI Education found that students participating in the seven Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) health pathways earned more high school credits, graduated at higher rates, and enrolled in college at higher rates than their peers in traditional high schools. The number of students in these health-themed programs of study more than doubled across the four academic years SRI examined, with nearly 1,500 youth involved in 2018–19. About 900 of these young people came from low-income households. Overall gender balance of students in health pathways improved, and the number of African American male participants increased nearly four-fold.

These results, surfaced through SRI evaluation begun in 2014, were generated at a time when analysts projected that the healthcare industry would account for about a third of total U.S. job growth through 2026. This sector included 20 of the 30 fastest growing occupations nationally.

Outcomes from Oakland are, poignantly, even more important today as the East Bay and communities across the country deal with the health, economic, and education crises caused by COVID-19. SRI was completing its rigorous, multiyear evaluation of the Oakland Health Pathways Project as the pandemic unfolded. As schools begin to reopen and students recommit to their college and career pathways, it is essential that we work to rebuild and strengthen a representative, skilled healthcare talent pipeline.

We learned from the 2007–2009 recession that high school and college graduates face harsh, enduring consequences in a tumultuous economy. And the suspension of work-based learning for high schoolers today may have life-long ramifications. A Brookings studyspoke to the significance of quality internships, apprenticeships, and other work-based experiences for disadvantaged young people. These real-world learning opportunities, accompanied by positive relationships with adult supervisors and mentors, factor directly into the likelihood of a young person being in a good job at age 29.

The pandemic raises the stakes for millions of young people, and for market sectors that are key to long-term recovery. It threatens lasting harm to public health through shrinking the pipeline of diverse, skilled professionals – including medical technologists, nurses and doctors, health scientists, and leaders of healthcare systems – who can serve communities.

In this context, the Oakland Health Pathways evaluation findings arrive at a crucial moment. They prove the potential that resides in all young people. They point to practices that connect youth to careers that spark passion and purpose. They pave the way for more public health/public school collaborations that serve students and communities.

The work of Oakland partners inspires us to stand for all young people at a time of profound change and risk created by COVID-19. It challenges us to resist the urge to rush back to an educational system that fails too many students and falls short of the needs of growth industries. It calls for thoughtful re-engineering to provide engaging learning experiences for all youth. The forward motion in Oakland, and other Linked Learning school districts, shows what is possible.

We can expand upon the incredible work taking place in Oakland Health Pathways. Currently there are nearly 30 healthcare, biotechnology, and medical technology certified pathways in the Linked Learning movement. These pathways are playing vital roles in rural communities like Lindsay and Porterville, suburban communities in the Antelope Valley, and urban communities like Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Fresno. Through thoughtful industry partnerships, students in these pathways are receiving hands-on, professional learning experiences that prepare them for college and career. At STEM Academy of Hollywood’s Biomedical pathway, a Gold Certified Linked Learning pathway in Los Angeles USD, students have the opportunity to work alongside Kaiser Permanente physicians, a practice they kept in place even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Students in Lindsay High School’s new Silver Certified Academy of Health Science & Medicine serve as interns at their local hospital. And at the Biomedical Science Academy at Eastside High School in Antelope Valley UHSD, sports medicine pathway student serve as interns in their school’s athletics department, and treat fellow peers alongside athletic trainers.

As interest grows in the healthcare field thanks to “The Fauci Effect,” we must commit to ensuring the next generation of doctors, nurses, and public health officials are highly skilled, passionate, and represent the communities they serve. We can achieve this by investing in Linked Learning healthcare pathways in California, and across the nation.