Tupelo • Health care is a prominent industry in Northeast Mississippi, and those interested in the field will find a bounty of potential careers.
The ongoing Imagine the Possibilities Career Expo virtual experience is providing students access to a wealth of information about the health sciences pathway via videos, podcasts and other sources. Sponsored by the Toyota Wellspring Education Fund and the CREATE Foundation, the interactive career expo is designed to help eighth through 12th grade students learn about potential career pathways. It launched on Oct. 6 and will continue online through March 2021.
Jeannie Miller, Health Science teacher at Tupelo High School, teaches two courses: Health Science Core, which provides a basic knowledge of anatomy and physiology, infection control and legal and ethical responsibilities; and Health Science 2 which focuses more on emergency services and first aid. Prior to the pandemic, students in their second year would also shadow or take part in clinical rotations at the hospital.
She’s been in that role for three years, but previously worked as a nurse for 20 years. This year, Miller has used mentor videos available through the virtual career expo to show students a real look at healthcare workers’ jobs.
“I want them to realize this is not an easy career,” Miller said. “Whether you choose nursing or being a surgeon, you’ve got to be prepared for the hard work and the sleepless nights.”
Students are encouraged to take the YouScience career assessment, which is available on the Imagine the Possibilities website, to determine if a career in the health sciences is a good fit for them and which specific path might be best.
“Everybody can’t be a physician,” Miller said. “They think they can, but they just can’t.”
Miller encourages students to look into roles in the health sciences field beyond doctors and nurses, like physical and occupational therapy, speech pathology and radiology technology.
Miller also encourage students considering a health sciences career to participate in programs that give them an edge on others entering the highly competitive field. They suggested programs like the month-long Rural Medical Scholars Program at Mississippi State University, which earns them college credits and introduces them to medical professionals, or North Mississippi Medical Center’s Mentorship Academy, which provides students who complete it the opportunity to receive certified nursing assistant training during the summer.
David Wilson, President of North Mississippi Medical Center (NMMC), said the career expo’s shift to a virtual format because of the ongoing pandemic is an outstanding example of innovation during a time of crisis. And it’s still as important as ever to make students aware of the career opportunities available to them.
“It’s certainly our belief that we have a responsibility and a need to expose as many young students to the various health care careers that are available to them as possible,” Wilson said. “Nationwide, there’s a shortage in many health care (jobs) and that’s accentuated even more in Mississippi.”
NMMC has a longstanding partnership with the career expo and has been physically present at past events. Wilson praised the creative ways in which the Imagine the Possibilities team is approaching the new virtual expo.
Wilson said that aspiring health care workers should keep in mind there’s a constant shortage of professionals within the health sciences field. That drives demand and creates job security.
“We’re all humans, we’re all going to age, we all have frailties,” he said. “If you look at it from that standpoint, you’re fairly secure in the healthcare industry.”
Tina Snyder, lead pathfinder for the health sciences pathway for this year’s expo, agreed that working in the health care field offers job security. She has worked as manager of the staff development department at Baptist Memorial Hospital – Union County for seven years and has been involved with the expo for several years.
In the past, she and other employees with BMH would be physically present at the career expo with a mannequin for students to see and have health professionals on hand to answer questions and talk to students about their experiences.
This year, they were asked to find people at the facility to do “Mentor for a Minute” videos. Synder said they wanted to get a variety of disciplines and perspectives, from nurses to respiratory therapists in areas ranging from the emergency department to the intensive care unit.
She said high school students interested in pursuing a health sciences career should focus on science classes, but there’s another area of expertise that’s equally important.
“They should also take an interest in classes like speech,” Snyder said. “You need to be able to communicate well when you’re in the health sciences because you need to be able to explain things to patients, you need to be able to speak with family members.”
Missy Lunceford has worked as a Tupelo High School career coach for the past three years. She’s been an educator most of her life, and in her current role has helped hundreds of students find the right career path, including health sciences.
Lunceford said her purpose is to help students find their own purpose.
“Instead of fighting recidivism, we’re giving hope on the front end, which was so much more refreshing and hopeful for me,” Lunceford said.
She forms a relationship with students and helps them fill out applications and lets them know she’s available to assist even after they graduate from high school.
“You can’t just throw it out there to them and say ‘OK, good luck,’” Lunceford said. “It’s a connection that is constant.”
The Imagine the Possibilities Career Expo will continue to educate students about the opportunities available to them in the coming months. Students interested in learning more about the health sciences pathway via the career expo can visit itpcareerexpo.com or download the Imagine the Possibilities mobile app.