Beth Warning with two high school students
Volume 35 Number 2 | April 2021

Beth Warning, MS, MLS(ASCP)CM, AHI(AMT), ASCLS Region IV Director

While we hear about mentoring young professionals within ASCLS, have you considered mentoring even younger individuals who have an interest in a healthcare profession or laboratory career? Often, we find that our field is not one that jumps onto the radar of high school career counselors. We, as either an individual or a profession, need to provide the spark to change that.

Career Training for High School Students

Let’s talk younger here in terms of mentoring high school students. Within the Cincinnati Public School System (CPS), several of the inner-city schools are designated as a career-technical education school, offering specific courses for nearly 16 different careers, many of which are in healthcare. Students can become CPR/first aid certified or prepare for becoming a state tested nursing assistant (STNA), a patient care technician, a certified pharmacy tech, a physical therapy aid, an emergency medical technician, and finally, a certified phlebotomy technician. Yes, you read that correctly—these are career paths at a high school where, upon graduation, the students become eligible to take the appropriate certification exam.

“For many [high school students], this may be the beginning of a lifelong career in the field; for others, it’s a means of employment as they prepare for graduation and college life.”

For the past several years, I have been privileged to participate in the annual Sticks4Kicks at Woodward Career Technical High School, where students in the Health Technology Program hold an “open clinic” at the school. The media center is transformed to include a waiting/registration area complete with a dozen or so draw stations and testing areas. During the two-day program, the 20 or so students perform phlebotomy and or EKG testing on parents, friends, and community volunteers.

The event allows the students to practice drawing blood and document the human sticks required of them, or practice performing an EKG to log hours needed in preparation for a certification exam under the guidance of a professional in the field. So not only do I roll up my sleeve to help, but also have a “phlebotomy station” where I monitor the students as they perform the venipuncture, providing positive support to the student, reassurance to the “patient,” and help in the tricky situations.

In February of 2020, nearly 700 volunteers came forward to help these determined students on their journey. For many, this may be the beginning of a lifelong career in the field; for others, it’s a means of employment as they prepare for graduation and college life. This is the next generation of students entering our Cincinnati workforce!

My involvement came through my participation on the advisory board for Woodward High School, part of the Cincinnati Public School System. Within our meetings, the board will discuss opportunities for students to shadow the various health professionals in local hospitals; look at age and testing requirements (pre-COVID) to allow students to volunteer in various positions; and brainstorm how to stress to the students the soft skills needed—such as professional communication, attire, and attendance—once they secure a volunteer or paid position within the healthcare facility.

High School-College Partnership

Another opportunity through CPS is connecting with the summer program held across our college campus to allow high school students to experience various career fields and the education necessary to enter the field, many of which are in the College of Allied Health. By setting up a few microscopes with slides showing sickle cell, leukemia, Streptococcus, or E. coli, it’s enough to spark interest in a career in medical laboratory science. Allowing mock urine dips or fake blood typing is another option, where the students enjoy gowning up and putting on the gloves. For most, this is their first visit to a laboratory, and, more so, to a college campus.

After one such event, a student reached out and we began a mentorship that lasted several years while she finished high school and started classes at our regional campus. Kayla asked me to be her senior capstone mentor, and we met each Friday at her CPS school during class time to develop the written paper on community acquired Staphylococcus aureus and work through the interactive requirement. With her scripting and my access to materials, she later filmed an infomercial in our MLS student lab about infection prevention for S. aureus, with the help of the University of Cincinnati marketing team as our videographers. But the relationship became more than just working on a capstone project—she shared prom pictures and senior pictures, we learned about each of our families, and we discussed ACT scores and college applications. Kayla even invited me to attend her graduation where I was able to meet her family.

Another venue for mentoring and partnership with CPS comes with having several of the health technology students take part in the Intro to MLS Course on campus. Each spring (again, pre-COVID) up to four students take the college level course while still in high school, attending didactic lecture and actively participating in the hands-on laboratory sessions along with the roughly 20 or so University of Cincinnati second year pre-MLS majors. It is both scary and exciting for the Woodward group to be able to be “on campus” in our Health Science Building while sitting in class with college students. Kudos to their teacher, Ms. Sarah, who provides personal transportation from the high school to our campus each week.

Making that connection to share what is possible in a world where there are so many roadblocks is huge to the high school students. They enjoy the classroom and lab experience, they appreciate listening to your phlebotomy stories as they nervously practice on complete strangers, and they seek your wisdom and advice. Sharing about our professional career choice doesn’t have to start at the college or post college level, and it doesn’t always have to be one-on-one—it can be in the group or classroom setting.

I encourage you to get involved in a career day or as an advisory board member or serve as a tutor or mentor to share the opportunities the lab has to offer. While the student may not be thinking about an advanced degree in medical lab science, you can provide the spark that ignites the flame.

Beth Warning is Campus Based MLS Program Director at the University of Cincinnati.

Photo courtesy of the UC College of Allied Health Science