Health science has become a focus in Hall County Schools — just as the industry is among the most popular fields for employment in the Hall County area.
“Health care is an economic boom in this area because we have so many opportunities, and it’s recession-proof,” said Allison Wilson, who has taught at Chestatee High School for 15 years.
As the only teacher in the field for more than a decade, the former obstetrics nurse for 17 years at Northeast Georgia Medical Center has “taught everything that was taught.”
A second teacher was added in the 2014-15 year to teach the 316 students enrolled in Chestatee’s health science program. Wilson said this year she had 160 students and the second teacher had 156.
This increase in students enrolling in health science is an upward trend the county schools have experienced in the past five years.
Rhonda Samples, director of career, technical and agricultural education for the county, said enrollment was 806 students in 2011-12. It was 1,516 this school year, which is nearly double.
In 2011-12, 85 students completed a health care science pathway. That number rose to 317 in 2015-16.
Because of the surge in enrollment, Hall County has added three health science teachers since 2014-15. A fourth will be added this fall at East Hall High School.
Five of the six Hall County high schools had two health science teachers. The schools have 11 health science teachers. East Hall High School will add sports medicine for 2016-17.
Samples said the district added home health care this year for non-traditional students at Lanier Charter Career Academy in conjunction with Lanier Technical College.
West Hall High School teacher Debbie King said her program “has been jam-packed” for seven years. She said she has 150-180 students per year.
“We have a waiting list,” King said.
West Hall High is the only high school in the county system with one teacher. King noted two teachers are at West Hall Middle School, and some high school courses are offered there.
King said she has expanded to a pharmacy assistant pathway recently because she knew students struggled in college with the curriculum and “we have such a need for pharmacists.” West Hall is the only county school that offers the pharmacy pathway.
King, who attended college in California, was a pediatric nurse at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta before coming to teach at West Hall.
“I absolutely loved it,” she said of when she started teaching, adding she “kind of fell into (it) by accident.”
As of the fall, the school district will offer six “pathways” — a group of three courses in a particular field — in health science. They are patient care, emergency medical responder, allied health and medicine, sports medicine, pharmacy and exercise physiology. Sports medicine and pharmacy have been added recently. Exercise physiology will be added at North Hall High School next school year.
In any pathway, the first course in “introduction to health care science,” which provides an overview of the field.
The second course, essentials of health care, is an anatomy and physiology course. Samples said students can get two credits for passing it — the second in human anatomy and physiology, which is a science elective.
“That’s been really big,” she said.
The third course concentrates on the specific areas of health care.
Samples said the pathway helps “streamline and gets a student focused on a particular area of health care.”
Hannah Beck, a 2016 graduate of Chestatee High School, agrees. She credits the health care pathway in high school and internships through Work-Based Learning with narrowing down her decision to being a pediatric nurse.
She credited Wilson with “being a good mentor” and helping expose her to different areas of health care. She said she took sports medicine and liked it, but not as much as patient care.
Following an internship at Mountain View Pediatrics, Beck now works part-time there. She plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of North Georgia and become a registered nurse.
Her internships at the private practice and at Northeast Georgia Medical Center “were exactly where I needed to be put to make sure health care was what I wanted to do.”
Beck’s sister is a nurse at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, which has Beck considering hospital work.
“I love the private practice, but I think I love the hospital a little bit more,” she said.
For 2015-16, allied health and medicine was the most popular pathway at East Hall, Flowery Branch and North Hall high schools. Emergency responder was tops at Chestatee; patient care was most popular at Johnson High and pharmacy was the leader at West Hall High.
“It used to be that a large number of my students would go heavily into nursing,” Wilson said. “But now that’s not the case. It’s all over the board.”
“The largest area that we place students in for our Work-Based Learning is health science,” Samples said, adding the schools need still more “health care sites that are willing to take students.”
County schools had 96 students interning in health care placements in 2015-16, up from 75 in 2011-12.
The “medical scholars” program — a combination of health care and leadership — started this year as a joint program with the city and county schools, private schools, Brenau University and the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.
Hall County plans to offer a medical front office assistant certificate program through its Early College, which starts in August.
Three of the county’s middle schools offer the introduction to health care science, for which students receive high school credit. They are Chestatee Academy of Inquiry and Talent Development, East Hall Middle School and West Hall Middle School, which has two teachers.
Physically, the program also is expanding. Samples said space is being renovated this summer at North Hall and Johnson high schools so each will have a new health care science lab this fall.
She said at North Hall “we just made do” in 2015-16, and a regular classroom was used at Johnson.
Proposed plans for East Hall High School are for a renovation for a new health care science lab next summer.