What is a Health Pathways Program?

How many times do we ask children what they’d like to be when they grow up? It’s a common adult question, and one that is inherently unfair. How many kids, or even young adults, are well-versed in the wide variety of career fields available to them? Within every field there are many professional positions that most of us haven’t even heard of. So how are kids supposed to learn about them? 

For healthcare, one way kids can learn about the wide variety of available professions is through a K-12 Health Pathways program, such as the one we offer at Reach Out. Pathways programs are engineered to integrate with school schedules and curricula to provide opportunities for students to learn in multiple settings about different career fields. 

“The key word is exposure,” notes Dr. Sherminah Davari, the Director of Reach Out’s Inland Health Professions Consortium, which oversees the Health Pathways programs. “The goal is to expose students to as many people, programs, and paths as possible so that when it is time for them to make decisions about their future, they have all the information they need to make informed choices.” 

Most pathways programs begin in middle school, with sixth through eighth graders. The programs follow a continuum over seven to eight years, giving students plenty of time to explore their interests as they learn about the field from different perspectives. 

Pathways Programs Offer Extensive Benefits

Given the shortage of healthcare workers in the Inland Empire, providing students with early exposure to the wealth of opportunities in this field is likely to help offset the shortage in the future. In a previous blog post, we discussed this shortage with experts who agreed that filling the pipeline early is the only way to combat the crisis we’re currently facing. 

It’s been demonstrated that kids who are exposed to careers in the sciences early are more likely to choose careers in those fields. A study in the STEM Education journal notes that “exposure of students to STEM careers can enhance their interest in pursuing careers involving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.” 

Giving kids the opportunity to understand the full range of available health care careers early gives them more choices as they make decisions about their future through the high school years. This is especially important for kids from diverse backgrounds who may not feel “seen” in the current healthcare system and therefore hadn’t considered the field for themselves. Being exposed not just to a variety of potential careers, but also to a range of professionals within those jobs can change the landscape of what working in healthcare looks like. 

What a Health Pathways Program Covers  

Health Pathways programs, like those implemented by Reach Out across a spectrum of local schools and districts, include a range of informational activities and experiences geared toward introducing students to the healthcare field. 

  • Speakers: Reach Out focuses on bringing in a variety of speakers from diverse backgrounds and professional paths, recognizing the importance of students “seeing” themselves in the experts we bring in. Speakers often share their own journeys, and also discuss practical aspects of their chosen field such as educational requirements, income potential, and the pros and cons of their jobs. 
  • Site Visits: A good program will incorporate site visits to clinics and hospitals in order to offer a view beyond speakers and textbooks. Students get the chance for memorable, hands-on experiences in real settings, allowing them a first taste of fields they might be interested in. Site visits often lead students to pursue internships in places they’ve visited that have appealed to them. 
  • Internships: Most people understand the basic goal of an internship – to get a real hands-on immersion into something prior to making a full commitment. Reach Out offers a 40-hour internship, which students typically complete over winter or spring break. 

“We’ve found that these internships have been really critical,” noted Miguel Olaez, Program Manager for the Inland Health Professions Consortium. “I’ve seen instances where students found that the thing they really thought they wanted to do wasn’t as interesting to them in reality as maybe, their third choice.” Internships are a way to avoid investing years into education and training only to learn that the career that looked good on paper wasn’t what someone really wanted. 

Most students have the opportunity to participate in several internships over the years between middle school and graduation, giving them wide exposure to a variety of interesting career fields. 

The benefit of schools working with a partner like Reach Out is that the organization has more than fifty years of experience in the community and can provide a wealth of connections in hospitals, clinics, public health departments and private offices to arrange placement for students based on individual interests. 

  • College Visits: Pathways programs also begin early helping students explore college programs that might serve their interests. With the guidance a program like Reach Out’s offers, students can learn what kinds of grades and scores they might need, and work on building extracurricular items that might make them more competitive when it’s time to apply.   
  • Soft Skills Training: While knowing where they might like to go is important, it’s equally critical to help students learn how to get themselves there. Reach Out includes mock interviews, resume advice, help with writing emails and making professional phone calls, and networking as part of the program.

    “So many of these skills were lost during Covid and the years of Zoom classrooms,” Miguel notes. “So we really work on how to format emails differently than text messages and how to be professional in meetings and on the phone.” 

  • Conferences: Reach Out also puts on an annual one-day conference to bring students together to hear a selection of speakers and to talk one-on-one with representatives from hospitals and career fields they are interested in. 
  • Partner Network: The best pathways programs have a wide array of partnerships in place, which can be tapped in order to tailor truly individualized learning opportunities for each student, depending on their unique interests. 

How Reach Out’s Health Pathways Programs Work 

Reach Out’s programs vary because they are engineered to integrate directly into the needs of each school’s existing programs. We offer a diverse range of support and training, but the overall goal is to offer in-depth and honest exposure to potential career paths. We want students to have a comprehensive understanding of what is available to them, and also to understand the benefits and challenges of each path. 

Though all programs are a bit different, they all offer:

  • A Full Spectrum of Health Professions – Most students already know what doctors and nurses are. We expose them to the other health professions available to them as well. This includes behavioral health, public health, lab techs, physical therapy and more. Our speaker series, site visits, and internships expose students to the much broader field, so they can find an authentic career path for themselves.
  • Inspirational, Honest Speakers – Our speakers are inspirational, but honest. On top of the excitement of their field, they also share their difficulties, the level of competition to enter the field, the challenges they’ve faced. The goal is to offer the complete perspective, since each choice will take commitment and perseverance. When students don’t get this type of exposure prior to making life-changing decisions, they can end up dissatisfied and disillusioned. 
  • Transparency into Earning Potential & Educational Requirements – We recognize that for some, earning potential is the most important factor, while for others, a less time-consuming training regimen might be the key. Exposing students to everything they need to know to make informed decisions is part of ensuring their choices will be good ones for them. 

How Will Reach Out’s Program Integrate Into Your School? 

The best thing about the Health Pathways programs Reach Out offers is that they are not a one-size-fits-all offering. Because every school and district is different, the program is built to accommodate flexibility and collaboration. Our mission is to align our program to each school’s needs, and we work as an integrated partner to achieve this. 

One of the most important goals we have is to honor existing curricula and teaching time, so the pathways programs we implement are built to complement and extend existing curriculum. We work directly with teachers to find this balance, and build our programming into minimum day schedules and students’ off periods. As a general rule, schools will have some form of interaction with the pathways program manager from Reach Out every week. 

Reach Out’s Health Pathways Program Takes the Burden off Schools

Reach Out has been running some form of the health pathways program for more than a decade. That experience means that we are able to seamlessly integrate into existing programs and serve a wide range of needs with our existing infrastructure and programs. By partnering with us, schools can save time, resources, and funds, and remove the burden to provide this comprehensive career education from teachers who likely don’t have time. 

In most situations, teachers come to see Reach Out as an integrated partner, helping demonstrate the utility of the STEM skills they are teaching in their existing curriculum. We bolster this effort by helping students understand the practical applications of their classroom learning. 

Because the program already exists, schools benefit from very little “ramp up” time. Once we gain an understanding of a particular school’s needs, we are able to implement immediately. The curriculum and programming already exist, and we can tap into our wide network of speakers and partners to deliver. Another benefit is that unlike programs spearheaded by one motivated staff member or teacher, Reach Out’s health pathways program isn’t reliant on a single individual. The program exists separately, which means if a staffing change occurs, the program can remain in place. 

“We have so many connections with great partners, whether they’re potential employers, or colleges and universities. We have close relationships, so we can often just pick up the phone and call them directly to make connections for our students. That’s part of being an organization that’s been operating locally for 52 years.” – Dr. Shermineh Davari

How to Start a Health Pathways Program

  1. It starts with a conversation. If you are a teacher, an administrator, a school board member, or even a parent or student, we would love to talk to you about the potential for establishing a health pathways program for you. The discussion is really our first step, and will be very collaborative. The goal is for us to understand where the gaps and interest areas are in your school so that we can structure the program to meet those specific needs. 
  2. The next step is to identify funding sources. Most schools operate in a fee-for-service model, contracting Reach Out to deliver the programming and working with the school board to approve it. This may require receiving state or federal grant funding to subsidize the program. Sometimes, partners like Reach Out may receive grants directly from foundations, state, or the federal government, and be able to provide these programs directly to the school. Get in contact with us and we can discuss potential funding with you. 
  3. Customizing the program is the next step. We’ll work with you closely to determine which programming pieces will best serve your needs, and also dive into the logistics of getting the program up and running in a way that complements your existing programs and schedule. 
  4. The last step is to implement the program. This is the most exciting piece, since it’s where the students we all work to serve really see the benefit of the program. They’ll learn about real-life opportunities that can have a lasting impact on their future and on the health of the Inland Empire as a whole. 

To learn more about establishing a K-12 health pathways program, please get in touch today.