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Innovative early college high school program to help fill healthcare job vacancies in Durham


by Greg Childress, NC Newsline
January 17, 2024

On Wednesday, Duke Health, Durham Technical Community College and Durham Public Schools formalized a partnership to establish an early college for high school students interested in pursuing healthcare careers.

The early college is made possible thanks to a $29.5 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies. It was one of 10 grants awarded nationally through Bloomberg’s “Student-centered, Market-driven Healthcare Education Initiative” that was created to address critical healthcare workforce needs while preparing students for healthcare careers.

The initiative will prepare students for careers in nursing, allied health, surgical tech and clinical research. An apprenticeship program through the Duke University School of Medicine will also be available for students to pursue clinical research. Mary Klotman (Photo: Duke University)

Mary Klotman, Duke University’s executive vice president for health affairs and dean of Duke University School of Medicine, said the program will transform the lives of the students who participate.

Duke will benefit as well at a time when the healthcare industry is undergoing “extraordinary” and “tremendous change,” Klotman said.

“One of our biggest pressure points is our workforce,” Klotman said. “There’s just not enough technically trained, skilled workers to fill the jobs that are not only available today, but that will become available in the future.”

Duke University Health System is expected to hire at least 60 students after they graduate from the early college high school.

“For too long, our education system has failed to prepare students for good jobs in high-growth industries,” Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Bloomberg LP and 108th mayor of New York City, said in a statement. “By combining classroom learning with hands-on experience, these specialized healthcare high schools will prepare students for careers with opportunities for growth and advancement. America needs more healthcare workers, and we need a stronger, larger middle-class – and this is a way to help accomplish both goals.” Michael Bloomberg (File Photo)

The early college high school is expected to open in the fall of 2025 with 100 ninth graders. Additional classes of 100 students will be added each of the next three years. The district already offers healthcare courses through its City of Medicine Academy.

The early college high school will be part of the DPS system. It will be operated jointly by the public school system and Durham Tech Community College. DPS will provide high school teachers, a principal, support staff, student services, and curricular resources. Students will also be dually enrolled at DTCC.

Students attending the early college high school will simultaneously earn a high school diploma and an associate degree or workforce credential for aligned healthcare occupations. DPS’s Middle College at Durham Tech will expand to become an early college high school housed in renovated space at Durham Tech.      Pascal Mubenga (Photo: Durham Public Schools)

“This innovative partnership marks a significant milestone in our collective commitment to provide students with unparalleled opportunities and prepare them for successful futures in the dynamic health sciences sector,” said Pascal Mubenga, superintendent of Durham Public Schools. “This will also help us keep qualified talent right here in Durham to strengthen our network of care.”

Craig T. Albanese, chief executive officer at Duke University Health System, said the early college will help to build the area’s healthcare talent pool and advance health equity.

“As one of North Carolina’s most diverse communities, Durham deserves a healthcare talent force that reflects its beautiful community,” Albanese said. “Research has consistently demonstrated that patients fare better when healthcare teams mirror the diversity of the community – access, outcomes and healthcare experiences all improve.”

Roughly 81% of DPS’s 30,000 students are nonwhite. DPS is one of the most diverse school districts in the region.

“Duke Health is committed to health equity where everyone in our community has a fair and just opportunity to be their healthiest,” said Debra Clark Jones, associate vice president for Community Health at Duke Health. “Working collaboratively with our community partners to remove barriers to education and good jobs is critical to advancing health equity. I cannot be prouder of leading this important effort on behalf of Duke Health. This initiative is a great example of how we improve overall community health by partnering with intention and leveraging our respective strengths and assets.”

Durham Tech President J.B. Buxton added: “This partnership is about much more than an innovative educational approach,” Buxton said. “It’s about creating a high-quality pathway to some of the most important jobs in our community. It’s about making sure our healthcare workforce looks like the patients it serves. It’s about improving the quality of patient care and the health outcomes for all. It’s about the role of education and health in improving people’s lives.”

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