UTHSC Team Receives $1.3 Million for Education Initiative Promoting Careers in Allied Health

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The National Institute of General Medical Sciences has awarded $1.3 million to a new University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) initiative to educate rural Tennessee high school students about careers in medical laboratory sciences and public health information technology.

Dr. Jacen Moore

Jacen Moore, PhD, MLS (ASCP), assistant professor in the department of Diagnostic and Health Sciences in the College of Health Professions, is the principal investigator and program director. Rebecca Reynolds, EdD, RIIA, IAHIM, professor and program director of Health Informatics and Information Management, and Keisha Brooks Burnett, EdD, MS, SCT (ASCP)MB, associate professor and program director of Cytotechnology and Histotechnology, are members of Dr. Moore’s team.

The COVID-19 pandemic amplified the stress of existing critical shortages of trained, qualified, allied health professionals, especially in rural communities and underserved populations. Careers in fields, such as medical laboratory sciences and public health information technology, are in very high demand, yet professional programs struggle to recruit students. Dr. Moore’s project aims to ease this recruitment challenge by familiarizing and engaging student interest early in high school, where these fields aren’t as popular or well-promoted as other health professions.

Called “High School 2 Health Care” (HS2HC), the project seeks to enhance opportunities in these fields for underserved student populations. It is comprised of a summer program and dual enrollment course that will educate high school students and their teachers about careers in medical laboratory sciences and public health information technology. Integrating Next Generation Science Standards, the classes will give students and teachers the opportunity to develop hands-on skills and experience what a career in these fields would involve.

“We have been given an amazing opportunity through this SEPA award to introduce students and teachers in West Tennessee to new and innovative pathways to development of careers in the health professions,” said Dr. Moore. “By going into underserved communities in Ripley and Selmer, in collaboration with the University of Tennessee at Martin, we will further highlight the needs of the community to provide education to students, families, and communities.”

“Our college is delighted that this award will allow the dedicated efforts of Dr. Moore and his team to introduce students from rural and underserved areas of our state to career tracks in the health professions,” said Stephen Alway, PhD, FACSM, dean of the UTHSC College of Health Professions. “It is my expectation that many of the students who are touched by this program will choose careers in the health professions that can make a critical difference to health care delivery, and disease diagnosis for the citizens of our state.”

Dr. Moore’s team is working in collaboration with a team led by Simpfronia Taylor, MEd, EdD, director of the Ripley extension center at the University of Tennessee at Martin, and a team led by Carolyn Kaldon, MS, PhD, at the Center for Research and Educational Policy at the University of Memphis. The project is funded by a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) grant.