llinois Schools Develop Future Health IT Stars
High school students take online classes and gain experience with a variety of tech tools to prepare for a career in a booming sector.
Healthcare is among the few sectors where U.S. labor experts expect healthy job growth over the next few years, including a predicted demand for approximately 50,000 new health IT professionals. One school district near Chicago is preparing its students for that boom with the help of technology.
At Township High School District 214--Illinois' second largest high school district--educators are using technology to give kids a jumpstart in possible careers in healthcare and engineering, another sector seeing job growth, said Keith Bockwoldt, director of technology for District 214.
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The district is using Comcast Metro Ethernet services to deliver cloud computing, virtualization, and streaming video to support more than 12,000 high school students across eight communities in northern Illinois.
At the district's Wheeling High School, which has 1,977 pupils and is situated in a suburban community northwest of Chicago, students are offered elective science classes to supplement their regular biology classes. The idea is to fan a spark in kids who have a curiosity in possible healthcare careers.
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"The goals of the program are to expose students to a variety of careers in five pathways of the healthcare field--therapeutic services, health informatics, support services, diagnostic services, and biotechnology research and development--while teaching them 21st century skills," said Wheeling High School health careers program coordinator and chemistry teacher Julie Levene in an interview with InformationWeek Healthcare.
"We emphasize collaboration, teamwork, organization, and communication through a variety of project-based and problem-based activities," including podcasting, iMovies, and website design, said Levene.
Planning for this paperless educational program began in March 2009, with the first students beginning coursework in August 2009. It was funded through a grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
The school is watching for emerging trends in healthcare and is being proactive in providing students with exposure to that knowledge--including the evolving use of electronic medical records (EMRs) and other health IT tools by healthcare professionals. "With the implementation of EMRs and high-tech diagnostic tools in the healthcare industry, we saw a need to introduce students to a more professional use of technology," Levene said.
While students already may be comfortable with social networking tools, "we want the students to be able to collaborate, communicate, and organize with technology the way that a healthcare professional does in the industry," Levene said.
Wheeling students can download sample patient charting and other applications to get a look at how EMRs are being used to keep health records and help clinicians look up medication information in actual medical environments.
"The medical field is becoming paperless and being introduced to it at a young age makes it more familiar to us in the future," said student Becky Mullin, a Wheeling High senior in an email interview with InformationWeek Healthcare. Also, with the U.S. government estimating that its HITECH Act Meaningful Use programs will generate demand for 50,000 new health IT pros over the next several years, Wheeling is also helping students prepare for those jobs, too, said Levene.
"We understand that the information technology side of healthcare is growing by leaps and bounds because of the great technology that is being developed to advance treatment and organize information such as the electronic medical record. We incorporate research about health IT careers into the curriculum," she said.
Wheeling students who are interested in IT are also encouraged to pursue additional elective courses in programming and engineering at the high school.
Wheeling is currently in the third year of its healthcare careers program, with students currently enrolled in Introduction to health careers, medical terminology, and certified nurse assistant training classes.
The first two classes for freshman and sophomores are run in a paperless environment, with the school providing a laptop to each student for the term. The entire course is run through an online course management system called Moodle. All assignments, resources, and assessments are done through Moodle and "we utilize a variety of Web 2.0 tools and collaborate through Google apps," Levene said.
While Illinois' District 214 isn't the first in the nation to tap the power of IT to bolster the educational resources it offers students, it can be a looked at as a role model for using technology to help mold future healthcare professionals.
"We want to encourage our students to explore career possibilities in healthcare and prepare them get a better job," said Levene. "That's a lot better than flipping burgers."
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