Sutherlin High School freshman Jake Merrifield helps West Intermediate School fourth-grader Brayden Shaver build a stool at the Sutherlin High School wood shop in February.

As many Baby Boomers reach the age of retirement over next few years, the need for medical professionals will continue to rise. With many rural areas struggling to attract doctors, nurses and other needed hospital personal, a new program offered at high schools throughout Douglas County starting this fall aims to change that.

Douglas County is currently listed as an area experiencing a shortage of primary health care providers by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. According to a 2016 report from the Oregon Center for Nursing, it is predicted that there will be a shortage of over 6,000 nurses by 2025 in Oregon.

Randy Hubbard, a Surgical Services Purpose manager at Mercy Health Center in Roseburg, said they struggle to fill vacant positions, not only at this hospital, but at many others like it throughput the U.S.

“We struggle, mightily across the country in recruiting for these difficult to recruit positions,” Hubbard said. “In the four and a half years that I’ve been here, if you were to go back and look at the job postings, just for nurses, you’ll see between 20 and 30 nursing positions posted every month, and that’s just nurses.”

In order to help meet the demand and pave the way for students to enter the medical field, the Douglas Education Service District has partnered with Umpqua Community College to offer a new program to high schoolers. The Umpqua Healthcare Careers Pathway will be available to sophomores, juniors and seniors in the 13 high schools within Douglas ESD. The program consists of six elective courses on subjects like medical terminology, anatomy, physiology and medical producers for a total of 15 credits, Melody Cornish, the regional CTE coordinator for Douglas ESD, said.

Students in the program can dual enroll in UCC and earn a Healthcare Pathways Certificate from community college. The certificate will help make students more employable for front desk work at medical clinics and earn college credit that can be used for other degrees offered at UCC.

“I went through an exact program like this in the 90s when I was in school in Texas, and it was amazing,” Cornish said. “So I know what good it can do for students and for a community.”

Within the program are two pathways for students to choose from. The first focuses on preparing students for careers within the medical field that don’t require secondary education beyond the Healthcare Pathways Certificate. The second focuses on the nursing industry and is intended for students who want to pursue secondary education, such as that at a university or community college like UCC.

The program was made possible by a $432,000 Career Technical Education Revitalization grant. It was awarded to the Douglas ESD from the Oregon Department of Education to specifically be used for a CTE Program. The cost of the college credits, books and classes for students will be covered by this grant. The grant lasts 18 months, and Cornish said the program plans to be self-sustaining by then.

Hubbard is a member of the hospital’s Healthcare Advisory Committee that helped to create the Umpqua Healthcare Careers Pathway program. He said another program is currently in development where the students enrolled in these classes who are the most successful in the program are offered an opportunity to job shadow for a day at Mercy Hospital, Hubbard said. This job shadow would teach students about the different roles at the hospital and have zero contact between the hospital patients and students as to protect their privacy.

“If you can tap into your local youth, early on, and educate them,” Hubbard said about the healthcare CTE program, “you’re hoping to create that healthcare pathway for them to stay here.”

While this career technical education program will go into effect this fall, a more long term plan is in place to expand the CTE programs offered in the southern part of Douglas County.

A CTE Center is currently in development that would teach up to to 300 students career and technology based skills. Such potential programs include welding, woodworking, computer programming and other career applicable skills and trades.

Douglas ESD Superintendent Michael Lasher said the facility will be used by students from Days Creek, Glendale, Riddle, South Umpqua and Winston-Dillard school districts who will bussed to and from the facility for these courses from their schools.

The cost for this plan is estimated up in the millions with no exact cost listed at the moment. New staff are planned to be hired for the center, which will be up and running with in the next five years. Currently, Douglas ESD is trying to secure land for the CTE Center and raise funds for the project, Lasher said.

Both the CTE health program and this facility are means of expanding the workforce in the county and preparing students for future careers, Cornish said.

“The best part of this program is that we’re growing our own workforce,” Cornish said, “and increasing the ability for students to retain jobs here in fast growing family wage jobs, which is really important.”

“It’s not gonna help us today or tomorrow, but two, three, four, five years from now,” Hubbard said about the program, “It definitely will have created that pathway for the students and us as employers.”

Eric Schucht is a general assignment reporter for The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4217 or eschucht@nrtoday.com. Or follow him on Twitter @EricSchucht.

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Eric Schucht is the Charles Snowden intern at The News-Review. He recently graduated from the University of Oregon.

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