Widening the pipeline: A new health professions school in Austin

This is part of a blog series that highlights the work our partners are doing to improve the experience of Central Texas children by providing quality school options for all families. Find the entire series here.

We have all heard so much about the opportunity and potential that exists in Austin.  In our context at the foundation, a striking example of this is Dell Medical School (Dell Med), and its mission to Rethink Everything, creating a model healthy city right here in the place we call home.  Dell Med’s team is thinking about the ways care is incentivized, how to address the disparity illustrated by the fact that zip code determines life expectancy to a greater degree than even our genetic code, how to partner with communities to understand barriers to health that exist and how to address them, and the array of non-traditional partners and tools that can be leveraged to promote health and wellness.

At the same time these transformational discussions and activities are taking place, Austin is also entering a phase of narrowing access for some – where communities that enjoy healthy opportunities and excellent education, and families engaged in our thriving economic engine are a privilege for the few, especially within the city limits.

Increased opportunity for STEM students

As we think about the ways we can support broadening access to Austin’s opportunity, IDEA Public Schools’ (IDEA) new venture to create a preparatory school for the health professions endeavors to widen and diversify the pipeline of students prepared to tackle the STEM challenges and systemic understanding of a transforming health system.  IDEA Comprehensive Health Professions (IDEA CHP) will dramatically increase the racial and socioeconomic diversity of schools in Austin by providing a high-quality, college-preparatory, comprehensive health professions education in or near downtown Austin via an open-enrollment lottery.  This means that a student’s background and previous academic experience will not be criteria for selection.

A more diverse allied health workforce will be better equipped to understand, relate to and predict barriers to health that our communities face, and more able to develop relevant, pragmatic, effective solutions to address those barriers.  Moreover, students will be poised to enter a sector of the workforce so often in the lead for open jobs in the region, and with great need for well-educated, well-trained employees.  This means widening the job entry and career development opportunities for our local workforce, thereby providing viable onramps to the middle class for more local youth.

While schools focused on training youth for the health professions exist in most major cities in Texas, there is no such school in Austin.  And while such schools have contributed to the local health jobs pipeline in cities like Houston and Dallas, IDEA will be the first to pioneer a school for the health professions that begins to build strength in STEM education among students in preK-12th grade.  This early engagement means that all interested students have the best chance at entering a career in the health professions, rather than being behind in training as a result of STEM training that was inadequate or not introduced in critical early years.

A more diverse allied health workforce will be better equipped to understand, relate to and predict barriers to health that our communities face, and more able to develop relevant, pragmatic, effective solutions to address those barriers.

Sharing what works

Another exciting aspect of this work is the open availability to the strategies, tools, and content IDEA is building.  At the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, we are agnostic as to where good ideas that work may come from.  Our investments track closely those entities and partners best positioned to make the most impactful change in the current context.  At the moment, that means we are supporting IDEA in their endeavor to prepare and provide entry for their students into a burgeoning health workforce and career development trajectory.  But we love the idea that what works will be openly shared and leveraged by other partners with a similar vision.

IDEA has been relentless in making the connections that bring partners like local and surrounding school districts, health career training and education partners, and other education and health stakeholders to the table.  That pursuit of partnership and dedication to sharing what works, will mean that the investment we make with IDEA School for the Health Professions will have impact well beyond a single entity. Through this work, we hope to support one strategy that will result in more inclusive access to opportunity in Austin – what’s exciting to us is how many outstanding partners have the very same goal.

Other blogs in the series:

Breaking the cycle of poverty through education

Data without response is just data

Making education data actionable