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VOL. 126 | NO. 67 | Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Memphis Health Careers Academy Preps Future Industry Workers

By Aisling Maki

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Graduates of Memphis Health Careers Academy not only receive a high school diploma; they earn a career technology certificate with a focus on allied health, making them well-prepared and immediately eligible for employment in Memphis’ robust health care sector.

Part of Memphis City Schools, but neither a charter school nor an optional school, MHCA, is a small, focused learning community specializing in health sciences, and it’s the first of its kind in the city and state.

“We’re the first small learning community for Memphis City Schools,” said Dr. Gwendolyn Robinson, who holds a master’s degree in nursing and had retired from her previous position at the Shelby County Health Department before embarking on a career as a teacher at MHCA. “We have the opportunity to know all our students individually and we can be there for them.”

The high school offers an academically challenging, rigorous hands-on curriculum for students in grades nine through 12 with a demonstrated aptitude in math and science and a serious interest in working in the health care industry.

Housed in the former South Side High School building at 1800 Prospect St., MHCA was founded in 2007, and modeled after a careers academy in Atlanta where principal Brenda Thompson traveled several years ago with a group of other educators to learn how they could implement a similar program at MCS, then under the leadership of Superintendent Dr. Carol Johnson.

A little more than 100 students are currently enrolled in the school, which has maintained a 100 percent graduation rate every year since its inception.

In addition to standard high school courses such as algebra, world history, English, art and biology, students enroll in health care-related courses, including emergency medical services; health science education; medical therapeutics; nursing education; support services; and clinical internships at area hospitals and health care facilities.

Students whose focus is certified nursing assistant (CNA), for example, will complete a nursing education component in the classroom, as well as clinical hours at a long-term care facility regulated by the state.

“We went to a facility called Parkway Health & Rehabilitation Center, and we practically did everything the residents can’t do for themselves,” said senior class president Jocelyn Payne, who’ll graduate this year as a CNA. “You learn to be a health care worker. You learn about keeping privacy, making sure residents are safe at all times, and making sure you make that resident’s life as easy and as comfortable as if they were at home.”

MHCA receives the support of several local hospitals, most notably its official adopters: Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis and University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

Baptist, for example, donated hospital beds, bedside tables, catheter tubing, boxes of gloves and graduated cylinders so a mini-clinic could be created for the CNA students to prepare for their test.

Students have also shadowed nursing, nursery, pharmacy and radiology professionals at Baptist.

Juli Story, Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis director of marketing and community relations, said it’s all part of the hospital’s mission of preaching, teaching and healing.

“Those are students who choose to go to that school because they feel they want to go into some health care profession,” she said. “That was an important link for us.”

The school hosts a professional seminar day once a month, allowing health care professionals from various local facilities to talk to the students on the MHCA campus.

“Every time we have an employee who goes and participates, they always email me back and say, ‘I’m so glad I took this opportunity,’” Story said. “It’s a volunteer basis, and they always come back, without fail, and tell me how much of a blessing it was to be able to go over there, talk about their career, and talk to these kids who are so interested in going into the health care field. It’s living our mission, and we’re excited about that.”

The school also works with several partners, including the Regional Medical Center at Memphis, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Methodist Healthcare.

Many MHCA students will go onto college programs, but most will have to work while enrolled, and their certification makes them highly-employable, especially in Memphis.

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