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Ashley Johnson checks a fellow student?s vital signs while Madison High School nurse Diane Clark looks on.
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August 28, 2006

Academy Gives Students Health Career CHOICES

Having a successful medical career someday is the dream of Ashley Johnson, valedictorian of the graduating class of 2006 at Madison High School in Houston’s Central Southwest Super Neighborhood. With a passion for math and science, she plans to become an anesthesiologist or a surgeon. While attending to her studies at Madison, she volunteered twice a week in the nurse’s office at Madison, logging in sick students and taking their temperature. She enjoyed the work.

“By the time I entered high school, I knew I wanted to be a physician. When I visited the operating room, I realized then that I wanted to be a surgeon,” said Ashley, who was in the top five percent of her class. “It’s so intense.”

Ashley is just one of several high school students who participated in an innovative program called the CHOICES Health Career Academy, a two-week health-career initiative involving students from two of Houston’s predominately African- American communities last summer. The program was administered by Texas Woman’s University (TWU) and was made possible through a grant from St. Luke’s Episcopal Health Charities.

High school counselors recommended both male and female students interested in pursuing a health career. Students enrolled in the Academy were allowed to wear blue St. Luke’s scrubs and wear a stethoscope around their neck, while getting a first-hand look at the work of physicians, nurses and allied health professionals in operating rooms, classrooms and pathology laboratories.

Did You Know?

St. Luke’s Episcopal Health Charities was founded in 1997 as a separate component of St. Luke’s Episcopal Health System. It is now the largest charitable organization in Houston devoted to raising community health. To date, the charity has awarded more than $60 million to select, not-for-profit service programs throughout the Episcopal Diocese of Texas.

During the first four days of the Academy, the students were given a broad overview of the nursing profession by St. Luke’s registered nurse Flo Schaefer, an education specialist in Nursing and Patient Education. “We gave the students information on privacy rules, patient confidentiality, infection control, hand washing, vital signs and computer documentation. That was just the first day,” said Flo, who designed the Academy nursing curriculum. “The students were like sponges. They wanted to learn everything. The whole experience was eye opening for them.”

Kathryn Peek, PhD, who spearheaded the Academy while working at TWU, said CHOICES is a good complement to the public school curriculum, providing students with valuable information and an extra push to move them closer to their career goals.

What is a Super Neighborhood?

A Super Neighborhood is a geographically designated area where residents, civic organizations, institutions and businesses work together to identify, plan, and set priorities to address the needs and concerns of their community. The City of Houston has almost 90 Super Neighborhoods.

“These kids are hungry for a helping hand. They see where they want to go, but don’t know how to get there,” Dr. Peek said. “We’re helping them find their way.”

Diane Pavey, director of community support at SLEHC, says the program has made a big difference by boosting the students’ self-esteem and providing a much-needed service to students, families and the community in helping guide students into health careers.

“The students are empowered in their education and can actually choose to be in the program,” Diane said.

“CHOICES is really committed to meeting areas of need we have identified through our Community Assessment Committee,” Diane said. “By extending this program to promising students in these neighborhoods, we are encouraging young people to assess their strengths and consider devoting their talents to a career in healthcare.”

- Jacqueline Preston

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