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Success Story in Action: Pitt County’s Health Sciences Academy Brings Robust Experiential Learning to Its High School Students

Leaders of Pitt County’s Health Sciences Academy are working hard to give students the real-life skills needed to succeed in the work world—thus fueling the talent pipeline for our state’s employers.

While labor shortages have been prevalent across all industry sectors in recent years, it has been particularly acute in the health care industry and even more so in our state’s more rural communities. However, for Pitt County, this program has brought a tangible solution for training the next generation of health care talent in the Greenville area.

The Health Sciences Academy is a curriculum program, which was created to expose and prepare Pitt County high schoolers who wish to pursue a health care-related career after graduation.

During high school, students participating in the program complete a minimum of six courses that prepare them for various health careers. As part of their program experience, students can participate in job shadowing, mentoring, internships, medical research opportunities, career exploration, and volunteering at ECU Health. In addition to ECU Health, the school system works in tandem with East Carolina University Division of Health Sciences, Brody School of Medicine, the ECU Dental School of Medicine, Pitt Community College, Eastern Area Health Education Center, and the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce.

“When people think of health care, they think of doctors and nurses,” said Reed Potts, Health Sciences Academy Coordinator. “Doctors and nurses only make up 30% of the health care workforce, so there are many more jobs out there that the kids do not know about.”

The program, which began in 2000, currently has approximately 1,000 student enrollees, and works with high school students exploring all pathways including two- and four-year colleges, trade school, the military, and others. Potts expressed pride that 30 members of the program’s current cohort will be first-generation college students.

“Seeing a career firsthand—you’ll know whether or not it’s for you,” said Lisa Lassiter, director of workforce development at ECU Health. “We had a student who was set on being a labor and delivery nurse, but after a firsthand experience through Health Sciences Academy, she adamantly decided it was not for her anymore. That’s valuable too, because if she hadn’t had that opportunity, she never would have known until her junior year of college during clinicals.”

Potts said that standalone career nights are extremely beneficial to recruiting future students into the program because they can touch, see, and feel medical equipment and talk to staff about potential careers firsthand. They are also now starting recruitment efforts even earlier among middle schoolers.

To participate in the Health Sciences Academy, students must maintain a 3.0 GPA, have a clean disciplinary record, and complete 25 hours of volunteer hours per year. There are also two dedicated counselors that work directly with Health Sciences Academy students and travel to all of Pitt County high schools.

In this program, students learn many soft or durable skills, including leadership, critical thinking, accountability, and communication, and they also get other important training such as etiquette lessons, resume building, and ACT and SAT workshops.

Health Sciences Academy students participating in teambuilding and leadership exercises.

Potts stated that there has been a major return on investment as this program expands the talent pipeline in the Greenville area. “Roughly 50% of the students who go through the Health Sciences Academy stay in the area and go to East Carolina University,” he said. “And we anticipate seeing that number go up even more.”

He also attested that every single student who goes through the program goes to a two-to-four-year college, trade school, or the military.

When asked what recommendations they would make to other counties looking to implement similar programs, both Potts and Lassiter discussed the importance of constant two-way dialogue between the health system and school system, to ensure the needs of both parties are being met.

“Having direct communication with the school system has been extremely beneficial because we can discuss what’s going great and how to mitigate certain challenges,” said Lassiter. “As a result, we have this very well-trained future pipeline.”

She also stated that many people may be turned off by the cost of a similar program but suggested that other schools and health systems can start small by using time as a resource or having exposure activities that do not cost money.

To learn more about Pitt County’s Health Sciences Academy, visit their website here.