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Tomorrow’s Healthcare Jobs for Today’s Students: Career Pathways Awareness and Exploration

OC STEM Café “Passport” for Healthcare Pathways What do pulse points, hiring bonuses, and a promising career outlook have in common? They were all items of discussion and exploration at a recent regional Career Connected Learning event on the Kitsap Peninsula! West Sound STEM Network’s May 19th “Healthcare Pathways” STEM Café hosted 18 regional educators at Olympic College (OC) and explored healthcare education pathways. This professional development highlighted the preparation required for entry into competitive, nationally-accredited programs at the post-secondary level.

STEM Café “Passports” provided reflection opportunities for each of the program’s labs, enticed educators to compete in a rousing game of “Name that Rash,” instructed on pulse points and respiratory rates, and detailed specific hands-on activities the K-12 teachers could scale and take back to the classroom for their students, specifically emphasizing foundational soft skills needed for success.

Programs highlighted included Physical Therapy Assistant, Medical Assistant, Medical Receptionist, Medical Billing and Coding and Nursing pathways to include Certificates at the Nursing Assistant and Practical Nursing level, and Registered Nursing at the Associates and Baccalaureate degree level.

OC faculty indicated new students are better able to navigate the challenges related to application processes and rigorous curriculum if they have a strong foundation in science (which aid in the completion of pre-requisites) and other soft skill preparation which historically improve outcomes for incoming students.

Professor Lynn Bartlett, DPT was on hand to share insights into the Physical Therapy Assistant program. He said that communication skills and understanding of professional behavior are critical to student success and that OC integrates support within the program. Program Chair and Professor for the Medical Assisting program, Barbara Parker said critical thinking skills are inherently necessary for working in healthcare.

Since the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the healthcare workforce, it is more important now than ever to make sure that students and K12 educators are aware of the opportunities in a healthcare pathway---an opportunity that is right here in our region. STEM Café attendees learned that despite significant need for licensed or credentialed healthcare workers, an excellent career outlook, and in some cases even hiring bonuses, Physical Therapy Assistant, Nursing Assistant, and Medical Assisting pathways have seen a decrease in the number of applicants during the last two years while the more comprehensive nursing pathways continue to experience a larger number of applicants than can be placed into their programs.

With healthcare showing significant workforce gaps and growth projections, both locally and nationally, there are excellent opportunities for wage progression in high-demand healthcare occupations. Students may choose to start with a short-term certificate to begin working in the industry and gain direct patient care experience, setting the stage for career advancement via continuing education or promotion. As per ONET Online data for the Bremerton-Silverdale area, workers on average earn the following:

Medical Receptionist: $36,080

Medical Assistant: $45,690

Nursing Assistant: $36,900

Licensed Practical Nurse: $60,320

Registered Nurse: $79,590

Physical Therapy Assistant: $59,280

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