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More than 150 people gathered at Winchester Medical Center’s Conference Center on Monday to kick off a regional health career initiative to expand education and employment opportunities at a time of growing demand. Area public school students, teachers and school board members, Valley Health leaders, college presidents and elected officials were among those celebrating the new Health Science Career Pathway Program.
The program grew from conversation a few years ago between Mark Merrill, President and CEO of Valley Health, and Rick Leonard, EdD, Superintendent of Winchester City Schools. The two now co-chair a regional community partnership for health sciences education that includes Valley Health, 12 public high schools in Clarke, Frederick, Page, Shenandoah and Warren Counties, Winchester, Lord Fairfax Community College, Shenandoah University, United Way and Our Health.
Nationwide, a shortage of health care workers is expected as baby boomers retire from those positions and require additional services. As the region’s largest employer, with over 5,500 employees, Valley Health has developed outreach activities to interest youth in health careers and encourage college students to work for the regional nonprofit on graduation.
Merrill announced Monday that Valley Health has committed $300,000 to the six school systems to enhance current curriculum, create more dual-enrolled courses with higher education, and better align educational programs with the needs of local employers. The funds will cover 50% of the anticipated costs of additional courses and instructors for two years, at which point each school division will absorb the full cost. The enhancements will roll out at the start of the 2013-14 school year. A week-long Health Science Academy will be held in late June for 36 students, three selected from each of the 12 high schools.
“The career pathway program is an excellent example of how industry and education can and should partner for the future of our communities through strong education programs, support for industry, and a bright future for students,” Merrill said.
Other speakers at the kick-off event were Valley Health Vice President of Human Resources Liz Savage; Academic Liaison Lisa Zerull, PhD, RN; Frederick County School Superintendent David Sovine, EdD; Page County School Superintendent Donna Power, PhD; Lord Fairfax Community College President Cheryl Thompson-Stacy, EdD; Shenandoah University President Tracy Fitzsimmons, PhD; and Deanna Madagan, a James Wood High School senior and president of the school’s Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) chapter.