Health Care and Higher Education

Health science program grants opportunity for disadvantaged students

Plan is to recruit students from underserved communities to build health care workforce.

March 25, 2016
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A new summer program developed in collaboration between a West Michigan university and a regional health education center aims to grow the health profession talent pipeline and increase its diversity.

Western Michigan University and the Western Regional Area Health Education Center announced last week plans to launch a Health Science Summer Program for high school students to earn credits toward a health professions degree.

The program will recruit disadvantaged high school students who are interested in pursuing a health care career to spend the summer following graduation on WMU’s Kalamazoo campus to complete 12 credit hours toward a degree.

Lisa Brennan, executive director of the Western Regional AHEC at WMU’s Grand Rapids location, said the program was developed in collaboration between the College of Health and Human Services at WMU and the Western Regional AHEC, which is hosted by the college.

“We are trying to recruit kids who are interested in a post-secondary degree in a health science program and helping them to get a head start in pursuing this degree so they can gain the degree and go back to medically underserved communities and practice their specialty,” said Brennan.

WMU and the Western Regional AHEC plan to identify and contact Michigan high school students in their junior and senior years who qualify for the program throughout the Western Regional AHEC’s 19-county area.

The counties are Mason, Lake, Oceana, Newaygo, Muskegon, Ottawa, Kent, Allegan, Barry, Van Buren, Kalamazoo, Calhoun, Jackson, Lenawee, Hillsdale, Branch, St. Joseph, Cass and Berrien.

“The idea is, many of those counties are medically underserved and in health care provider shortage areas,” said Brennan.

“We are looking at different (students who are) disadvantaged and underserved by their ethnicity but also students who are identified as first-generation college students.”

While the specific criteria haven’t been identified yet, Brennan said eligible students must be high-achievers with a good grade point average and good scores on the SAT or ACT.

“The program is looking to build the health care workforce, especially in a primary care setting, and to create an environment that fosters academic success for these students,” said Brennan.

The program is expected to begin with a cohort of approximately 20 newly graduated high school students in summer 2017. The students will be housed in dorms on the WMU campus and will be enrolled in two summer semesters of classes. Upon completing the summer program, the students will enter their freshman year of college.

Brennan said the program includes both general education and specialty courses from WMU’s College of Health and Human Services to introduce the students to various study areas, such as growth development and aging, introduction to health disciplines, and introduction to communication sciences and disorders.

Although the cost burden for each student is around $10,000, Brennan indicated WMU and the Western Regional AHEC have fundraising plans to secure the necessary funds to send the cohort of 20 students through the program for free.

“There is a big cost to send the students, but there will be no cost given onto the students,” said Brennan.

“It is a really unique program for Michigan, and it is just a wonderful opportunity to reach the counties in West Michigan … where students wouldn’t always think about attending a four-year university. Providing 12 credits to kids free of cost is a great concept; it is a wonderful thing to be giving them the opportunity to do so,” added Brennan.

The plans for the program were discussed during last week’s breakfast event at the WMU-Grand Rapids East Beltline campus. The Western Regional AHEC’s advisory board addressed the need for the WMU summer program, and Dr. Earlie Washington, dean of the WMU’s College of Health and Human Services, was the keynote speaker.

“Dean Earlie Washington participated in a similar program when she was in high school,” said Brennan. “It allowed her to advance to where she is today, and she wants to provide that opportunity to other students in West Michigan.”

The nonprofit envisions strengthening the primary care workforce in medically underserved and health care provider shortage areas, and does so by improving “supply and distribution” of professionals through community and academic educational collaboration. It is one of five regional centers in Michigan, which are hosted by sub-contractors such as Western Michigan University.

Brennan said while Congress passed legislature in 1971 to develop Area Health Education Centers, Michigan didn’t launch its program until 2010. Funding through the Health Resources Services Administration supports the Michigan-wide program.

“Michigan is very late to the game to develop statewide coverage for Area Health Education Centers. Our western center opened in 2013 and is hosted by Western Michigan University’s College of Health and Human Services … (which) provides funding to our center and our Michigan program office,” Brennan said.

Brennan said the summer program ties in nicely with the mission of both organizations.

“It addresses the need of increasing the size and diversity of the primary care workforce, and our center represents the disadvantaged, underserved areas … and, of course, the College of Health and Human Services looks to enroll students into post-secondary education to become health care providers, or health and human service providers,” said Brennan.

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