When Cody Hoover started taking the health careers class at Helena High School, it was because he wanted to be a doctor.
While the class could have given him options for medical school, it taught Hoover that he didn’t want to be a doctor after all. Instead, the junior plans to go to the University of Montana Western and get a degree to teach biology and history.
“He paid zero dollars to find out he doesn’t want to go to school in the health care field,” Manny Garza, the health careers teacher at Helena High, said.
While the class can help students like Hoover find out what they want to do through the process of elimination before they’re spending thousands of dollars in college tuition, most of the time students who take the health careers class stick with health care after graduation. The class, started in 2001 at both Helena and Capital High, is designed to get or keep students interested in the health care field through innovative and hands-on techniques. The class is two 50-minute periods each day and teaches anatomy and physiology, informs students on how much education and training different professions require, helps students get CNA certified and rotates them through different local health care organizations.
There are about 20 students in Garza’s class of juniors and seniors. All have plans to continue to some kind of postsecondary education, and most are interested in working in the health care field. In the United States, health care is the fastest growing industry, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a recent report showed 20 of the 30 fastest growing occupations are in health care.
Alex Fasbender, a junior at Helena High, plans to study neuroscience at Montana State University. She said the class helped her figure out what kind of science she wanted to study and reinforced that she will have plenty of job opportunities.
“No matter where you go, you’re always going to be helpful,” she said.
Garza brings students to local dentists, physical therapists and a range of specialists at St. Peter’s Health, which exposes them to many different fields and helps connect students to future job possibilities in their own community.
“I’m seeing students come back and find jobs in Helena,” Garza said. “I like to see students stay in Montana.”
At St. Peter’s Health, students shadow professionals in the field and get hands-on experience in areas such as imaging, the medical floor, pharmacy, physical therapy and rehabilitation, surgery and informatics.
Matthew Abbott, a junior, knew he wanted to be a surgeon. He thought he wanted to go into orthopedics, but realized he’s more interested in cardiothoracic surgery after learning more about the different systems of the body and going through all the rotations.
“I like the way the heart and lungs work together,” he said.
While going through specialties, the class also sees former high school students in stable jobs.
Jesica George took the health careers class because her older sister did. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, but decided to go to X-ray school after graduating high school. Now George is a radiation tech in diagnostic imaging at St. Peter’s, and the CNA certification she received in high school helps her provide better care to her patients.
Kendra Waddell, an informatics registered nurse, graduated from high school in 2006 after taking the class. She knew she wanted to go into health care, but the course opened up fields beyond the role of a traditional nurse or doctor. Her job integrates nursing and information technology skills to manage information and data to improve efficiency and ensure quality patient care.
After Waddell went to school at Montana Tech, she already had familiarity with St. Peter’s. Now Waddell and others who have gone through the program and have jobs in the Helena area are invited to go back to Garza’s class to talk about how the class prepares students and why they should pursue a job in health care.
Sevda Raghib, director of staff education at St. Peter’s, said students get to see beyond the glorified part of working in the medical field. They learn how patient privacy works, see if they will be comfortable around blood and needles and see realistic workplace conflicts.
“I think the more experience before they start working here is beneficial,” she said.