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New program for teens hopes to address healthcare worker shortage

Published: Jan. 10, 2022 at 6:53 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Healthcare fields across the board are reporting labor shortages.

So, some programs across the Mid-South are accelerating to get more people on the job quicker.

As a high school freshman, Hannah Sweezer already knows what she wants to be when she grows up.

“I aspire to want to be an anesthesiologist, eventually,” said Sweezer.

Also as a freshman in high school, Sweezer is already working toward that goal. She attends the newly opened Medical District High School in Memphis where students take Southwest Community College courses along with their traditional high school work, to work toward an associate’s degree by high school graduation.

“This pandemic has made me even more determined to be a part of the healthcare field,” Sweezer said.

As hospitals admit more patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has projected a glaring light on the increasing staffing shortage in healthcare from the ambulance to the bedside.

The Survey Research Company Morning Consult found 18 percent of healthcare workers have quit their jobs since the pandemic began.

“We have to replace crews that are leaving the workforce, that are experiencing burnout,” said Clay Butts, quality improvement coordinator at Acadian Ambulance Services in Memphis.

There are opportunities across the Mid-South to get into a healthcare job faster. At Acadian Ambulance Services, there is an accelerated 10-week course to become a certified EMT.

“We’re paying people to go to class and paying for the school itself,” Butts said. “So, in 10 weeks they can go from whatever they’re doing to being an EMT.”

In many healthcare fields, the staffing shortages started before the pandemic. In nursing, the shortage has been expected as baby boomers get ready to retire.

“There was drastic need to improve the nursing workforce prior to the pandemic. The pandemic has just accentuated the need,” said Dr. Susan Jacob, Executive Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) College of Nursing.

No staffing shortage may get as much attention as the nursing shortage.

UTHSC is now automatically admitting Southwest Tennessee Community College students, including those at Medical District High, with certain requirements, like certain associate degrees, into its nursing program.

“It appears to be and it is an accelerated program because they get to jump right into their major,” said Kesha Ivy, principal of Medical District High School.

It cuts the program in half for students. For some high school students, that means they could have a BSN degree by age 20.

In a pandemic or not, the desire to want to be a part of something bigger is still very present in students.

“I’ve had family members be on ventilators, and one that actually passed away from COVID-19,” Sweezer said. “If you ask me, this program is setting us up for a better future.”

To find out more about Medical District High School, click here.

For courses with Acadian Ambulance Services, click here.

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