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Hospital lends expertise to area high school program

Uniontown Hospital Critical Care Education Specialist Jennifer Sova demonstrates procedures on a patient simulator at Laurel Highlands High School. Photo by Eric Morris, Herald-Standard.

By Eric Morris


Exposing students to careers in health care at Laurel Highlands High School isn’t limited to the textbook, the teacher or even the classroom.

They’re bringing in the experts.

An elective course offered at the school — Introduction to Health Careers — brings various health professions directly to the students to help them consider career paths after graduation.

“As a school, any type of experience we give them to explore careers is an advantage,” said Principal John Diamond. “We feel it’s good to offer these opportunities now rather than the student get into those careers and realize they don’t like it.”

Business teacher Brenda Zelich has taught Introduction to Health Careers for almost a decade. She said the course grows in popularity among students each year.

The course utilizes industry professionals who regularly visit the classroom to speak to students about their chosen field — the responsibilities, the educational requirements, the employment outlook, the rewards, the setbacks. Students hear guest speakers several times a month throughout the school year.

“They take away the opportunities that are available in those careers to help them find what they like to do,” said Zelich.

The half-credit course, available to sophomore, junior and senior students, is one way Laurel Highlands helps students transition to post-secondary education and promote steady, well-paying jobs that can be attained locally.

About one dozen health care professions are listed as “high-priority occupations” in Westmoreland and Fayette counties, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry, meaning they are in-demand and are projected to remain so through at least 2024.

“There’s no textbook that I can give them that teaches them about health careers, because one doesn’t exist. They want people that are actually in the field doing things that they’re passionate about,” said Zelich.

About four years ago, said Zelich, the school district partnered with Uniontown Hospital to provide consistent programming for the class in the form of a steady stream of guest speakers from the hospital’s various departments and centers.

The partnership has also allowed the opportunity for Laurel Highlands students to job shadow with hospital employees and to visit the Uniontown Hospital Education Center, a facility for continuing education and training for hospital employees.

“We are happy to be able to participate with local educators taking steps to provide a better understanding of the many health care career opportunities available here in Fayette County,” said Josh Krysak, director of community relations for Uniontown Hospital.

“When Laurel Highlands reached out regarding this initiative we were excited to collaborate. Departments within our facility — from Diagnostic Imaging to IT — have stepped up to help area students gain a broader appreciation of the various skills and expertise that can be utilized at Uniontown Hospital to not only earn a living but to make a healthy difference in the lives of others while doing so.”

The course is offered as part of the school’s Education, Health and Human Services Career Academy — one of several academies or career clusters offered at Laurel Highlands — that also includes elective courses in family studies, nutrition, psychology and anatomy.

When a guest speaker is not on the docket for the day, students learn about medical terminology, the history of health care, qualities for success in health care professions and health career preparation.

Diamond noted a trend touched on by many of the speakers who visit the class regarding discipline and work ethic being the foundation of their profession.

“Everybody that comes in talks about the same basic traits: work hard and apply yourself to get to where you want to be,” he said. “Even if they don’t have an interest in that particular career, students get that constantly from every speaker we have. I hope they see importance in that.”