Town Hall Recap: Health Science Pathways

This Getting Smart Town Hall focused on pathways in health sciences and highlighted the following elements of effective pathways: 

  • sector job prospects and entrepreneurial opportunities 
  • career exploration resources 
  • high school pathway examples
  • work-based learning and credentialing opportunities 
  • postsecondary pathway examples.

The event also demonstrated the critical role of education leaders, intermediaries, and thought partners in shaping the future of the healthcare industry and empowering the next generation of healthcare professionals.

Dr. Kyle Hartung from Jobs for the Future (JFF) discussed the evolving landscape of healthcare careers and the importance of designing educational pathways that lead to meaningful employment. He underscored the need for systems that integrate secondary and postsecondary education, work-based learning, and leadership. Kyle highlighted the demand for durable employability skills and the disconnect between the current education system and the needs of employers. He proposed innovative solutions like the Big Blur, which reimagines education for 16 to 20-year-olds by integrating high school and community college experiences.

The town hall also featured insights from Kate Kreamer of Advance CTE, who discussed the revitalization of the National Career Clusters Framework to reflect the interdisciplinary nature of modern work. Christine Rodriguez from NAF shared success stories from their academies, emphasizing the importance of work-based learning and advisory boards in preparing students for healthcare careers. Jason Rausch from Project Lead the Way highlighted their hands-on, real-world learning approach and the importance of creating a STEM identity for students. The event concluded with a discussion on the collaborative efforts needed to create clear and effective pathways in the healthcare sector, ensuring that students are prepared for high-demand, high-wage careers.

Health Science Pathways

This town hall was informed by some of our recent research on where pathways are headed in the future. We’ve released a Health Science Pathways Guide to support leaders thinking about starting a new health sciences program or who are looking to supercharge their pre-existing model.

View Guide

Abridged Transcript

Here is the revised text with improved punctuation, grammar, and spelling, while maintaining the original tone, style, and diction:

Shawnee Caruthers: Hey everyone, good morning. I’m so excited to see you all. Thank you all for joining us today for the Health Science Pathways Town Hall. If you’ve been following us for any time, then you know that pathways are really important to the work that we do.

We really want to ensure that students understand their next steps, their next best step. And with the help of our partners from ASA, Stand Together, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Walton Foundation, we’ve been able to explore what that looks like, both foundationally and beyond. As education leaders, intermediaries, and thought partners, you all play a crucial role in shaping the future for our students and the healthcare industry. Today’s town hall offers an excellent opportunity for us to come together, as we like to do, to share insights, provide thought leadership, collaborate on strategies, and share generously as you all normally do.

If you’ve been to any Getting Smart town hall, you know that a lot of information is shared. We are truly a community. By fostering these pathways, like health science, we can empower the next generation of healthcare professionals and support the development of a more robust and equitable healthcare landscape.

The campaign we’ve been running, in which we have been deeply engaged and invested for quite some time, is a roadmap for American schools, regardless of zip code. We believe students need to understand their next step after high school because we want them to be on a productive path to citizenship, high-wage employment, economic mobility, and a purpose-driven life. We believe that the purpose of learning is embodied in our new pathways campaign.

There are many jobs, trends, and opportunities that we’ll be exploring over the next year and a half. The first focus is on the health science pathway, as we think about the future of work and its changes. Health science is no exception to these changes. The trends in health science are in high demand and growing. The top five fastest-growing occupations in health science are nurse practitioners, physician assistants, PT assistants, home health and personal care aides, and occupational therapy assistants. The population is continuing to age, and the needs are constantly changing. Health is no longer just about a personalized approach; it’s also about community wellness. We need to ensure that students understand how to take care of themselves, their loved ones, and their communities.

The baby boomers are getting older, and their needs around chronic disease management, home healthcare, etc., are growing faster than ever. Technology is changing every second of every day. The world of healthcare today will not be the same in 10 or 11 years. We have some great guests to dive into this with us, sharing their knowledge around healthcare and pathways. We’ll kick it off with Dr. Kyle Hartung from JFF, then Kate Kreamer from Advance CTE will share, followed by Dr. Christine Rodriguez from NAF, and we’ll close with Jason Rausch from Project Lead the Way. Kyle, I will turn it over to you.

Jobs for the Future (JFF) 

Kyle Hartung: Thanks so much. Thanks for having me. Hello, everybody. As indicated, my name is Kyle Hartung, Associate Vice President at Jobs for the Future. My pronouns are he and him. I’m excited to do a quick walkthrough of some big ideas. Much of what you’re going to see is more of a leave-behind. I won’t linger on a lot of the data and content of these slides, but let’s dive in quickly. For those who don’t know, Jobs for the Future is a national nonprofit organization that’s been around for over 40 years, focused on driving transformation and innovation in the US economic, education, and workforce systems, with a focus on equitable economic advancement. We partner with business leaders, education, and industry leaders across the country to design solutions that make a difference in the lived experiences of young people, young adults, and ultimately the communities in which they thrive.

I’ve had the privilege of co-leading a national body of work called Pathways to Prosperity at JFF for over 12 years. We’ve partnered with federal, state, and regional leaders to design and scale career-connected learning pathway systems in over 16 states and over a hundred regions across the country. As I think about the pathways construct, I want to share how we view this. These are our core levers for implementation to build systems transformative to people’s lived experiences: the integration of secondary and postsecondary career navigation systems, work-based learning, the role and scaling of intermediary functions, and leadership and policy, with both big L and big P and little l and p.

To dive into healthcare and the future of work, I’ll name quickly that most students are not getting the right credentials. Earning a credential with value in the labor market is important, but it’s not the same as getting a good job. Data shows we’ve overcomplicated things. Employers are asking for about 50 of the thousands of credentials offered to high school students, signaling many disconnects. Many on this call are committed to changing that narrative.

We see a disconnect between what we think is important for career preparation and what employers say they want. Most employers aren’t looking for highly trained technical skills in early career roles; they want durable employability skills. This is true in healthcare as well as other industries. There are many middle-skills jobs available, but not enough to go around. Seismic shifts in data show the level of credential needed for good jobs, and not enough young people are attaining them or are positioned to get them.

I won’t unpack this whole thing but look at a prototypical cohort of high school students. Few move through postsecondary to a bachelor’s degree and into a good job. Education is not the great equalizer it should be, and wealth gaps exist at every level. The BA remains a gatekeeper, with median wealth for white households with only a high school diploma the same as black households with a BA. Few students transition to education or training leading to good jobs. We don’t need a return to four-year college for all. We need systems with no dead ends, avoiding a second-class system.

Healthcare offers many strengths, with jobs in high demand and security, and varied educational requirements. But there’s variability in job requirements and occupational segregation, with women, black, and Latin workers underrepresented in higher-wage occupations. We must design systems with intentionality to address this.

What does this look like? High-wage jobs require higher credentials, which varies by support role jobs, many requiring prior work experience hard to get for young people. There’s opportunity to reimagine systems. I’ll leave you with questions for designing pathways into healthcare, considering dual credit alignment, access to work-based learning, career advancement opportunities, stackable and portable credentials, and clear paths into additional education and training.

One more thing: how do we disrupt systems at scale? One idea is the Big Blur, reimagining institutions for 16 to 20-year-olds, rather than cobbling together high school and postsecondary. Look at the Sturm Collaboration Campus in Colorado, integrating high school students full-time on a community college campus with work-based learning, co-taught by industry professionals. Innovate locally for real collaboration, not just stronger bridges or band-aids. That’s a lot; thank you. Kate, bring it on.

Advance CTE

Kate Kreamer: My name is Kate Kreamer. For those not familiar with Advance CTE, we are the national membership organization representing state leaders overseeing career technical education across the country. Our members are in all 50 states, D.C., and the U.S. territories, working in state agencies across secondary, postsecondary, and workforce development.

Before discussing a major initiative impacting health pathways and all pathways, I like to start with our vision for the CTE system. Over the past 10 years, we’ve created shared visions, bringing together stakeholders to think about where we are and where we need to go. In 2020, we created and released a vision in 2021, with over 40 organizations signing on, including JFF, NAF, and others. This vision focuses on dismantling barriers, recognizing that our systems often create limitations and silos that don’t understand the learner experience.

We aim to de-silo across K-12, postsecondary, and workforce; de-silo academic and technical instruction; de-silo credit and non-credit; and center equity so every student feels they belong, are welcome, and prepared. We want students to navigate the system with the necessary tools and support, understanding high-skill, high-wage career opportunities. We value skills, not just seat time, and ensure skills are affordable and recognized wherever acquired—in classrooms, workplaces, military experience, etc.

Addressing geographic barriers is crucial. Industry doesn’t see state lines, yet policies often make everything site-based. We must look at how courses are coded, data collected, and teachers certified to align with the needs of today and the future.

I also want to talk about the revitalization of the National Career Clusters Framework. It’s been around for 22 years, and although validated over time, it hasn’t had a major update since 2002. A lot has changed in the world of work, and the updated framework must reflect the interdisciplinary nature of work and bridge education with industry. It must include current skills and approaches and remain flexible for future changes.

One example is the connection between health careers and community services. Health careers now intersect with community services and human services. Biotechnology, currently within healthcare, is also relevant to agriculture. Programs should draw on expertise from both sectors.

We will release the updated framework in October 2024, with policy support for de-siloing and pushing the system forward. This means looking at course coding, data collection, and teacher certification to match the updated framework.

Questions for Kyle and Kate

Tom Vander Ark: Thanks, Kate. We’re all looking forward to that update. I want to ask Kyle a quick question. Compared to other pathways, health pathways seem to work well. They’re visible, and families know about them. Even though they are complicated with licensure and degree requirements, aren’t there fewer dead ends in health pathways than in other sectors?

Kyle Hartung: I think there are many, though. While health is a field with visibility, many behind-the-scenes occupations aren’t well-known to young people. The dead ends come when good, high-paying jobs like CNA or phlebotomist roles don’t easily lead to further education. People may find themselves supporting families in their late 20s and needing to re-enter formal education. We need to leverage pre-existing credentials and build broader programs of study, ensuring pathways to roles like nurse practitioner or business administrative positions.

Tom Vander Ark: Corey [Mohn in the chat] mentioned high turnover in entry-level jobs like patient techs, which are modestly paid. Why is there so much turnover, and are these early credentials stepping stones to high-wage employment in health?

Kyle Hartung: It’s likely due to the job’s nature—long hours, low pay, and burnout. Without support structures, people feel stuck. We need people in these roles, but also need to partner with employers to reimagine working conditions. Pathway systems should promote dialogue with employers to support transformation in both education and job conditions.

Kate Kreamer: Emerging research shows younger generations seek jobs with clear paths and professional development. In health care, while CNA roles seem to lead to nursing paths, data shows this isn’t happening. There are many forces against it, including lack of communication and partnership between industry and education. Hospitals may have a disincentive to move people out of entry-level roles due to high demand.

Tom Vander Ark: Health care involves a lot of licensure, not always connected to degrees, which are often required. Is there an opportunity to better integrate degrees and licensure requirements?

Kate Kreamer: Licensure provides clear requirements, which is an advantage. During COVID, states enabled reciprocity, easing recruitment, but have since pulled back. We should reopen reciprocity to allow cross-state opportunities. It’s easier to work with licensure in healthcare than with murkier credentials in other fields.

School Models

Tom Vander Ark: I’ll note that Anna Hennis has pointed out that hospitals are really good at this and understand the pathways, helping clear the path. As Josh mentioned earlier, school systems with close partnerships with hospitals can take advantage of pathway clarity and work experiences related to degree completion.

Let me use this opportunity to mention a couple of schools that we think are interesting examples of productive pathways. I’ll start with Del Lago Academy. This is in North San Diego County. It is a single-purpose, single-pathway high school with about 800 students in the Escondido school district, started about 10 years ago. It’s a great example of project-based learning with health sciences and biotech applications across the curriculum. Every junior does an internship, and there are great partnerships with two local hospitals, as well as hundreds of biotech companies in San Diego. It’s a great example of a single-path, single-purpose high school focused on healing the world.

There are dozens of really great next-gen career centers around the country that feature health pathways. One of our favorite examples is Summit Tech in southeast Kansas City. They have, over on the right, a terrific professional nursing program. They also have the upper division Project Lead the Way courses. One of my favorite things about visiting Summit Tech is that they have trophy cases filled with Project Lead the Way research, not sports trophies. This is a school that celebrates its professions-based learning.

One of the most important advances in health pathways is the development of health P-TECHs. These are early college high schools with health-related work-based learning experiences. The center of that movement is really Texas, particularly Dallas, where every comprehensive high school has a P-TECH, many of them focused on health. Roosevelt P-TECH is featured here. We’ve seen that same sort of movement in St. Vrain in Colorado and also in rural Texas. It’s really exciting to see Collegiate Edu-Nation (CEN) leading a rural revolution. They’re working now with about 40 school districts to create P-TECH high schools in rural communities. We’re seeing really high percentages of students graduating with an associate degree but also with work experiences, in their case, many times in health, biotech, ag tech, and animal health. It’s exciting to see CEN moving into a number of other states. We really appreciate their rural leadership, showing that you can create accelerated, supported pathways connected to high-wage employment anywhere.

We love Health Leadership High School in Albuquerque because they take a slightly different approach to pathways. They’re helping every one of their students become a health advocate for their own health, their family’s health, and their community’s health. This really paid off during the pandemic when very quickly all the Health Leadership students were involved in the community response to the pandemic.

Finally, a quick shout-out to Polytechnic School in Pasadena. They’re doing really terrific upper-division research, and it’s all published in national journals. This is a great example of inviting students to do work that matters. With the rise of generative AI, this kind of research—inviting students to do professional-quality work that takes on subjects that matter to them and to their community and then publishing it—is a really exciting opportunity going forward.

Our friends at NAF run about 620 career academies around the country, and many of those are in health sciences. Christine’s going to tell us a little more about their health pathways.


Christine Rodriguez: Hi, everyone. I’m Christine Rodriguez with NAF, Director of Instructional Services. NAF has been dedicated to ensuring students from underinvested communities, particularly students of color, have equal access to opportunities. Our educational design revolves around four gears: academy development and support, curriculum instruction, work-based learning, and advisory boards.

Work-based learning is huge for us. We provide career awareness, exploration, and preparedness through internships, guest speakers, site visits, job shadowing, and mentorship. Our advisory boards support educators, leaders, and students, ensuring seamless transitions from high school to college and career.

We’re revamping courses like anatomy and physiology, global health, and developing a unit on oral health with Delta Dental. We work with Amgen and Delta Dental, Harvard LabXchange, and promote CTSOs like HOSA, aligning with Advance CTE standards.

Currently, we serve about 113,000 students, 18,000 in health sciences. One powerful anecdote: former students of mine, now RNs, cared for my father in his final days, showcasing the impact of our Academy of Health Sciences. Another success story is Karthik Tyagi, UNC Chapel Hill graduate and senior strategist at NC Department of Health and Human Services, former HOSA international president.

Recently, our Work-Based Learning Impact Award featured a Student Community Health Project, promoting empathy, community pride, and equitable healthcare awareness. It’s imperative to support our students for economic mobility.

If you want to get involved with NAF academies as an individual, corporation, or organization, we already have 3,700 business and community leaders on advisory boards. We need more volunteers to speak in classrooms, mentor, and provide internships. We need everyone.

Project Lead the Way

Jason Rauch: I’m Jason Rauch with Project Lead the Way. I’m our Senior Vice President of Programs, a lifelong educator supporting the development of biomedical science, computer science, and engineering curriculum. Project Lead the Way started 26 years ago, now with over 100,000 teachers from pre-K through 12, supporting career pathways.

Our program provides in-demand skills, technical and professional, through hands-on, real-world learning. We offer four biomedical science courses and a new interdisciplinary Capstone course for seniors, bringing together biomedical science, computer science, and engineering students.

We highlight successful programs like Elkhorn Crossing School, emphasizing micro-credentials and industry-recognized credentials. Our partnerships with NAF and others enhance our programs. We’re excited to be part of this conversation. I’ll turn it back to Shawnee.

Shawnee Caruthers: Thank you, Jason, and all our speakers. We had a rich discussion with much information shared. Unfortunately, we’re out of time and can’t address the questions or comments. Thank you to everyone who participated.

As you can see, health science is layered, and I love the conversation around cross-cutting points and the emotional toll on students in health care and other fields.

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

Subscribe to Our Podcast

This podcast highlights developing trends in K-12 education, postsecondary and lifelong learning. Each week, Getting Smart team members interview students, leading authors, experts and practitioners in research, tech, entrepreneurship and leadership to bring listeners innovative and actionable strategies in education leadership.

Find us on:


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.