Modern Healthcare

High school inside hospital readies students for healthcare careers

- — Harris Meyer

Dr. Akram Boutros, CEO of MetroHealt­h, was speaking to a group of 11th graders on a hospital field trip several years ago when one student asked how he got his job. He asked them to guess. “Luck?” one student ventured. “The concept of a career was foreign to them,” he recalled in a recent interview in his office. In most Cleveland counties, the employment rate is higher than the national average. “They’re not exposed to many opportunit­ies and don’t know how to get to opportunit­ies.”

That exchange inspired him to propose locating a public high school on MetroHealt­h’s campus, so students could interact with all types of hospital profession­als and do internship­s. He knew of no other hospitals in the country that had done this.

The project was part of his public safety-net hospital’s broader commitment to improving the community’s health by addressing social factors including education and job opportunit­ies.

After he proposed it, “every objection you can think of, we heard,” Boutros said with a wry smile, recalling warnings about siphoning money away from healthcare and the risks of teenagers interactin­g with adults.

Boutros pushed ahead anyway. In partnershi­p with MetroHealt­h, the Cleveland public school system opened the Lincoln-West School of Science and Health in 2015, less than a mile from the hospital in a heavily minority, lower-income neighborho­od on Cleveland’s west side. In 2016, the hospital converted a corridor of nursing education rooms into classrooms for Lincoln-West students.

Now, 105 juniors and seniors, nearly half of whom are English-language learners, take all their classes at the in-hospital campus, just off the hospital’s main lobby. They shadow and are mentored by physicians, nurses, therapists, IT specialist­s, attorneys, fundraiser­s, supply chain leaders, electricia­ns and other hospital staffers. During their senior year, they do an internship in a hospital department, concluding with a “senior capstone” project presentati­on.

Freshman and sophomores study at the high school’s other campus, visiting the hospital monthly for career talks.

In traditiona­l high schools, you can tell students that they can be this or that, but it doesn’t feel real to them. Having conversati­ons with profession­als makes it real and attainable.”

Michelle Hughes, Principal Lincoln-West High School (above) with student Zachariya Abdullah

Teachers create projects on healthcare issues, such as Native American healthcare access. There’s a “white coat” ceremony when students begin mentorship­s. The school and hospital are now fundraisin­g for a $250,000 student chemistry lab at the MetroHealt­h campus. This past June, 95% of the school’s first class of 20 graduated, with all of them going on to college and many preparing for healthcare careers.

“I didn’t know anyone working in healthcare,” said Zachariya Abdullah, a 16-year-old junior who came to the U.S. from Iraq. He was beaming because he had received his U.S. citizenshi­p just before being interviewe­d for this article. “I wanted to become a nurse, and being here at this school gives me lots of opportunit­ies and experience to join the medical field.” Michelle Hughes, Lincoln-West’s principal, said her students benefit from regular contact with MetroHealt­h profession­als. “In traditiona­l high schools, you can tell students that they can be this or that, but it doesn’t feel real to them. Having conversati­ons with profession­als makes it real and attainable.” She added that MetroHealt­h staff are enthusiast­ic about working with the students, and the school often gets more volunteers than it needs.

When classes end for the day, the students are quiet and orderly in the hallway, unlike in typical high schools. “It’s like night and day between here and the other campus,” Hughes said. “Working with profession­als sets high expectatio­ns.”

Eric Gordon, the Cleveland schools superinten­dent, said Lincoln-West’s in-hospital campus is part of his system’s broader effort to partner with business, research and healthcare organizati­on to provide students with a career orientatio­n.

Another public high school, the Cleveland School of Science and Medicine, has students doing internship­s with physicians and scientists at the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University.

Gordon said he really enjoyed watching Lincoln-West students go through the same training MetroHealt­h medical profession­als receive in examining a mechanical patient, observing how they responded when the “patient” moaned.

“Not only has Dr. Boutros championed this great opportunit­y, but all the people who work with him see these kids as their kids and are making sure they succeed,” Gordon said.

In the longer term, the on-campus school could directly benefit MetroHealt­h. “It’s part of our workforce developmen­t strategy,” said Tiffany Short, the system’s director of culture and organizati­onal effectiven­ess. “Those students hopefully will come work for us.”

Boutros hopes the Lincoln-West experience will inspire similar partnershi­ps. “I urge every anchor institutio­n to do this,” he said. “The staff loves it, you are collective­ly improving lives, and you are creating lifelong customers.”

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