HPAC gives high schoolers “tiny taste” of health careers

Students from East High School enjoy a laugh in the dental hygiene lab in Cushwa Hall. They are, from the left, Zaria Love, Vivian Rodrigquez, Kyron Lee (in chair), Davon Ashford and Savannah Sockwell.

Students from East High School enjoy a laugh in the dental hygiene lab in Cushwa Hall. They are, from the left, Zaria Love, Vivian Rodrigquez, Kyron Lee (in chair), Davon Ashford and Savannah Sockwell.

It used to be that Amy Hays-Neifer’s chemistry students at Warren Harding High School knew of only two medical career options: doctors and nurses.

That’s all changed, says Hays-Neifer, for 20 Harding students participating in YSU’s Health Professions Affinity Community. The program brings high school students to the YSU campus for hands-on experience in health professions such as dental hygiene, clinical lab work, nursing, physical therapy, respiratory care and emergency medical technology.

“It gives them a tiny taste of the vast array of health-related careers available to them,” said Hays-Neifer, a YSU alumna. “It’s a wonderful way to explore careers.”

The program is funded by a two-year, $33,000 grant from the HealthPath Foundation of Ohio and aims to increase the diversity of the primary healthcare and dental care workforce in the Mahoning Valley. Tammy King, associate dean of the Bitonte College of Health and Human Services and principal investigator for the grant, said the funds pay for transportation, supplies such as lab coats and stethoscopes for the students, snacks, beverages and a salary for the program coordinator.

Participation is open to students from Youngstown East, Campbell Memorial and Warren Harding high schools that have expressed interest in health-related careers. Thirty-five are signed up this year.

“I like the way this program exposes students to college life, with the professors and the labs,” said Pat Dixon, a health and physical education teacher at East High and also a YSU alum. “I bring students that I feel have a serious interest in exploring careers, and it’s encouraging some to consider going into the health fields.”

Students are bused monthly from their home schools to the YSU campus, where they spend several hours meeting with faculty and touring the various health program labs and classrooms. Participants are also required to complete a community service project or research project – Harding students, for example, studied and created a brochure on preventing childhood obesity.

In many cases, the students will be first-generation college students, King explained, so the program includes information on the college application process, test preparation and financial aid. YSU’s Health Professions Affinity Community is one of several in Northeast Ohio affiliated with the Northeast Ohio Medical University in Rootstown.