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Taking the opportunities offered in health care

Betty Young

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from an article in the June/July edition of the Community College Journal, the bimonthly magazine of the American Association of Community Colleges.

In the next seven years, 10 of the 20 fastest-growing occupations will be in the health care sector. And I’m not talking about medical doctors, but about nurses and allied health professionals, the majority of whom are educated at America’s community colleges.

The health care industry provides ever-increasing opportunities for a trained workforce through growing demand across traditional job sectors and in emerging new careers. Take the community health worker, for example. These professionals help patients gain access to and navigate the health care system.

At the Houston Community College (HCC) Coleman College for Health Sciences, where I serve as president, we recently graduated our first class of students in this new program. Through 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor predicts health care will generate 3.2 million new wage and salary jobs like these.

The health care industry will be a key driver for the U.S. economy over the next decade. Health care jobs provide a stable, professional upward-bound career path for many students. And, unlike a number of potential careers, most health care positions cannot be outsourced. Better still: Most of these new professions require fewer than four years of college, making community college the ideal environment for expanding health care career education.

Where and how we decide to teach health care should be guided by industry trends. Such trends are influenced by recent legislative developments, including the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and include changes to the type of care and how it is delivered.

Colleges must configure their educational programs to these new legislative requirements. The expansion of credentialing to all health care workers moves former on-the-job training into our colleges and requires workers to arrive on their employer’s doorstep with appropriate credentials.

Many new skills will be required of the 21st century health care worker. As educators, our challenge is to maintain the instructional integrity of the curriculum while adding relevant and essential content to our programs.

At HCC, one strategy is to deliver “content across the curriculum.” This entails integrating topics into the existing curriculum as opposed to adding new courses. This approach ensures that relevant topics are taught contextually and are applied as students receive more traditional aspects of their educations.

These integrated lessons stress a variety of skills, including clinical reasoning, critical thinking, global and cultural intelligence, emotional intelligence, teamwork and empathy, ethics, patient safety, and regulatory matters, to name a few.

Young is president of Coleman College for Health Sciences at Houston Community College.