In the United States, there is a shortage and maldistribution of physicians and allied health professionals including but not limited to hospital laboratory technicians and nursing assistants. In California, the San Joaquin Valley (SJV) falls short of the recommended ratio of primary care physicians and specialists per 100k people, which translates into worse access to care and health outcomes, especially for those living in rural areas. Reedley is a small rural town in Fresno county that has both designations as a Health Professional Shortage Area and Mental Health Professional Shortage Area. Research has shown that one of the ways to address this shortage and maldistribution of health professionals is by increasing the access to health professions mentorship and pipeline enrichment programs for the local community. A proven approach is to have community-partnered school-based pipeline program.
The objective of this community-partnered study was to explore the barriers and facilitators to adapting and implementing a school-based health professions enrichment program in a rural high school. In-person and phone interviews were conducted with stakeholders within the school district as well as local education pipeline experts and potential community partners such as the community college and local health care systems.
To date, there have been fourteen interviews conducted and others are being scheduled. Preliminary findings suggest building and collaborating with existing infrastructure and resources within Reedley High School, such as the Certified Nursing Assistant program, the sports medicine club, and the human anatomy & physiology and medical terminology courses to create a health careers education pathway integrated into the school curriculum. Curriculums and best practices proven effective to increase the health professional workforce within the San Joaquin Valley are also available for implementation in Reedley. There is current funding and grants available that may be allocated to implementing a health careers education program. Stakeholders agree that having a health careers education pathway was important for the community of Reedley and is necessary to increase the pool of qualified medical professionals working in the San Joaquin Valley.
All stakeholders and consultants emphasized the importance of increasing the number of opportunities for students to gain exposure to the health care sector and agreed that a school-based curriculum focused on giving students insight into the health care setting while preparing them for career entry/postsecondary education is imperative. More work needs to be done to identify additional supporting opportunities to expose and prepare students to a range of medical professions in demand in the local community and hospitals. Collaborating with the school district and Reedley community is necessary to create locally acceptable and actionable interventions to increase the number of culturally and linguistically sensitive health professionals practicing in the rural San Joaquin Valley.