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Business First: Doctor's Orders: Students get Jump on Careers

by cnewman

Business First by Elizabeth Carey  [ View Original Article ]
Sister Mary Ellen Twist, left, president of Mount Mercy Academy, discusses the school’s Academy of Science and Healthcare, with student Lauran Pantano and academy coordinator Candace Wagner. The school exposes students to health-care careers, thanks to a partnership with Catholic Health System. photo by: Jim Courtney
Sister Mary Ellen Twist, left, president of Mount Mercy Academy, discusses the school’s Academy of Science and Healthcare, with student Lauran Pantano and academy coordinator Candace Wagner. The school exposes students to health-care careers, thanks to a partnership with Catholic Health System. photo by: Jim Courtney

It's never too early to get a jump start on your career and area high school students are learning that firsthand. Thanks to their proximity to Mercy Hospital, and a chance meeting that happened in the right place at the right time, Mt. Mercy Academy (MMA) and Bishop Timon - St. Jude (BTSJ) students are getting a taste of what life is like in the healthcare industry.

It all began four years ago, when school president Sister Mary Ellen Twist happened to chat with Michael Moley, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at the Catholic Health System. "We talked about the potential of having a partnership between Catholic Health, the system, and MMA," she said. "He was very, very interested in this concept."

Three years later, the Academy of Science and Healthcare is giving high school students, from Mt. Mercy and Bishop Timon - St. Jude, hands on experience in the healthcare field.

It makes sense for the Catholic high schools to partner with Mercy Hospital, which is within walking distance of both campuses. But there's more to the partnership than geographics (though that is a convenience in scheduling learning sessions.) "The Catholic Health System is the partner so we have connections with Mercy Flight, St. Joseph's Hospital and more," said Sr. Mary Ellen. "It gives boys and girls opportunities of hands on, first time experience with healthcare delivery as it is happening."

"Many of them come in and think, 'I want to be a doctor.' They get into the hospital situation and realize there are so many more fields: pathology, nutrition, physician assistants," said Candace Wagner, a science teacher at MMA who oversees the program, which includes field trips, nine weeks of learning rotations through the health system in various departments, followed by internship opportunities for students who are seniors.

"We get them into healthcare and show them fields," said Nancy Preskop, Recruitment Program Coordinator for Catholic Health. "There's nothing worse than getting into the wrong field and taking on college debt with no opportunities or finding out it's not for me."

Instead, students like Laura Pantano, a senior at MMA, are able to make informed decisions on what career path to follow well in advance. "I knew I wanted to do something in the healthcare field, but I had no idea what," Pantano said. "We went to the emergency room and I was interested, but after doing the rotation, I realized it's not my thing."

"Jumping into a career is something you want to avoid," says Preskop. "At career fairs, I hear, 'I have a teaching degree with no work. How can I get into a healthcare career?' These are the things you have to think about when you pick a career and go through schools and take on loans."

"Our hospitals, home care and long term care facilities employ a number of people: 8,500 as of this year. We hired 1,700 alone from Western New York in 2012," said Bridget Russo, Director of Recruitment, Retention and Development for Catholic Health. "400 of those folks were nurses. Beyond that, there are also other opportunities and fields to get into. Rehab is an amazing, booming industry right now so there are needs for physical and occupational therapists."

Moley says partnerships, at the high school level, can make it easier to fill those jobs, "Catholic Health recognized years ago that the healthcare industry would have a significant challenge in filling critical positions. To meet this challenge, one of our key strategic initiatives was to engage high school students to prepare them for opportunities in this growing industry."

Catholic Health is also a founding member of the Health Sciences Charter School in Buffalo, but Sr. Mary Ellen says MMA and BTSJ "are the only private schools engaged in such a full partnership with a major health system."

While high school internships are now commonplace, students are beginning to realize they have to take things a step further to stand out in college admissions. "This distinctive program provides the type of experience college admissions boards seek in their applicants," said Margaret Staszak, MMA principal.

This, Russo says, proves that it's never too early to start planning for your future. "Even starting at the high school age, I'm looking for the next generation to help us out in the healthcare field," she said.

"Mount Mercy has positively changed my life forever. Through the inviting community, I was able to grow as a woman, as a daughter, as a friend, and as a member of society. Throughout my time here I have gained an education in both academic areas and life in general through the school's ongoing efforts to educate students on gender inequality, racial injustice, and environmental crisis'. Furthermore, Mercy has given me the space to gain confidence that 4 years ago I never would have guessed I would have. Mount Mercy has helped me take that initial step toward becoming the strong woman of color I am today. At Mercy you are more than just a student, you are whoever you wish to be."

Melina Courtney

Class of 2022

"My future, success, and the ability to be an empowered woman in society come from Mount Mercy. My school is a strong foundation for my role in life. From attending Mount Mercy, I can say with confidence, that I will graduate with the mindset that I can accomplish anything. Mercy is my home and my sanctuary to be whoever I want. Mount Mercy has been bringing forth generations of strong intellectual women into the world, and I am more than honored to be one of them. Mercy teaches girls more than academics, but also about the world around us. As a mercy community, we give back to the world because it is our home. From my four years at Mercy, I have been educated on pushing for equality and peace and the understanding that there is no limit to what I can do. I have the confidence to go out in the world and make a difference because being a Mercy girl has given me that opportunity. "

Cassidy Reid

Class of 2022

"Mercy is more than just a school. Mercy is my second home and a shoulder to lean on. Mount Mercy has given me the confidence and resources to pursue my passions and make the world a more inclusive place, propelling me to take strides into male-dominated fields. Mercy blessed me with an environment to grow intellectually and in the community, giving me the foundation to make a tangible impact while making lifelong friendships."

Adrianna Awald

Class of 2022

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