Transforming Local Healthcare Pipelines through Linked Learning
Healthcare is one of the largest job creators in California. Currently, the healthcare sector employs millions of Californians with healthcare jobs comprising one of the state’s fastest-growing occupations. The COVID-19 pandemic, population growth, and an aging population are driving the need to expand healthcare services. Skilled healthcare professionals are the foundation of any high-quality healthcare system, and it is critical that our state’s workforce is well-prepared to fill the meaningful, high-wage, in-demand healthcare positions.
Antelope Valley Union High School District is home to some of the state’s highest-quality Linked Learning pathways, including the Gold Certified Biomedical Science Academy at Eastside High School. As a Linked Learning pathway lead, Kerin Coffey is always on the lookout for meaningful work-based learning opportunities for her students and often explores opportunities for cross-sector partnerships, which is exactly what Kerin developed through an innovative collaboration with Kaiser Permanente and Antelope Valley College
Medical professionals from Kaiser Permanente, along with faculty and staff from Antelope Valley
College, provided health care simulation internships for fifteen students, allowing them to test real-
world diagnostic and treatment skills on mannequins. “At first, many staffers only signed up for the first simulation,” Kerin shared. “But they had such good experiences, they came back for all of them. They ended up being so excited about the program.”
The program was grounded in the Linked Learning framework, an approach to education that makes learning more engaging and relevant to students by providing meaningful career-related educational opportunities. In Linked Learning, students learn through career-themed pathways tied to local industry sectors. Each pathway integrates four essential components: rigorous academics that prepare students to succeed in college; career technical education courses in sequence, emphasizing real-world applications of academic learning; work-based learning that provides exposure to real workplaces and teaches the professional skills needed to thrive in a career; and comprehensive support services.
Linked Learning raises expectations—among students, families, and communities—that all young people should be working toward both college and career success. By linking traditional academic subjects to real-world professions, students wrestle with challenges like they would in the workforce, they engage in deep learning, and they consider career possibilities they might never imagine on their own. They see the importance of a college degree as the way to turn their aspirations into a rewarding career.
Internship partners ensured the experience was rooted in real-life health careers that extended beyond direct patient care. For example, students learned how to develop a professional resume prior to the launch of the program. They were also provided with professional uniforms and received 20 hours of work training to prepare for their simulation. Importantly, America's Job Center of California paid the students, creating meaningful opportunities to earn and learn simultaneously. By providing paid experiences during the summer, the simulation was accessible to all students, especially those from systemically underserved communities that need to work while in high school.
Students shadowed a variety of professionals from Kaiser including nurses, emergency medical technicians, radiology, and respiratory therapists. Students worked in fictional simulations to treat a traffic accident victim from intake, to treatment, through discharge. Modules included responding to a medical emergency, intensive care unit protocols, rehabilitation, and discharge. Students also had the opportunity to shadow social workers to learn how to share difficult news with families suffering loss. Students even catheterized and intubated mannequin patients.
Dr. Casey Scudmore, Associate Dean and Nursing Director at Antelope Valley College saw the impact learning come to life had for the student interns: “We already have the equipment, we already have the program, so it was exciting and inspiring to see these kids get involved and see new things. It showed me that it's worth taking the extra time. And I know that several of the Antelope Valley College and Kaiser professionals who were involved wished they would have had these types of experiences when they were kids.”
“Sometimes, we do find it's a big ask to expect industry professionals to work all day and then stay an extra three hours to provide these opportunities to young people,” Kerin reflected. “But our partners saw how excited the students were and that they really got something from it.”
The program also aimed to help smooth student transitions to college and the workforce. “Many of these students have never been on the Antelope Valley Community College campus or in a professional lab. This opportunity gave them a real taste of college and career. The program helped to solidify student aspirations for the future and the confidence they need to achieve their goals,” noted Kerin.
According to research from the Brookings Institution, evidence suggests that participating in work-based learning opportunities in high school improves educational and workforce outcomes. Research indicates cooperative education, internships, and apprenticeships in high school boost employment after high school. For young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, research found that participation in these programs is associated with having a higher-quality employment at age 30.
The initiative proved especially affirming for educators. “It gave me a confidence boost and helped assure me that we’re on the right track,” said Kerin. “It also helped me to connect with a variety of industry professionals and community college faculty who have such valuable experience to share with students. I feel like it could just grow from here. We've seen how positive the impact can be and so why not build on the momentum in our community to help them fill the pipeline of health care professionals in high-wage, high-growth jobs? Our students love where they come from, and we need healthcare professionals here.”
Elizabeth Notterman, a rising senior at the Biomedical Science Academy and summer program participant, shared that “as you're going through high school, and especially at our age, as we’re worried about college applications and studying for exams, it’s easy to lose sight of why we’re working so hard, but this experience helped me to see and stay focused on my dreams and aspirations.”
After the success of this year’s program, Kaiser Permanente, Antelope Valley College, and Antelope Valley Union High School District plan to expand the opportunity to more students.
Work-based learning experiences allow students to explore a range of careers and gain early exposure to college, while also developing skills in career navigation and professionalism. This partnership suggests that the combination of work-based learning experiences, and exposure to a range of careers paths, alongside the supportive relationships with adults, supports the development of positive academic identities and fosters engagement in learning in high school and beyond. For the future of our healthcare system, our communities, and our young people, now is the time to expand these formative opportunities to more students in California and across the U.S.