UMass Medical School working with Connecticut to improve health career programs for youths

April 21, 2016

UMass Medical School has been awarded a contract to improve evaluations of six youth health careers pipeline programs offered by the Connecticut Area Health Education Center (CT AHEC) Network, associated with the UConn School of Medicine.

The goal of the AHEC health career promotion and preparation programs is to get middle school, high school and college students into the pipeline toward careers in health care and inform their educational and career planning early on.  Annually, CT AHEC engages more than 6,000 learners in K-16 in health promotion programming.

“We’re helping the CT AHEC Network strengthen their student evaluation surveys to collect richer outcome data, and better tell the story of what impact these programs are having,” said Debi Lang, MS, program manager for training and evaluation at the Massachusetts Area Health Education Center (MassAHEC), part of the Center for Health Policy and Research, a unit within UMass Medical School’s Commonwealth Medicine division.

Lang and Jaime F. Vallejos, MD, MPH, MassAHEC Health Careers Pipeline program manager and the statewide advisor of MassAHEC HOSA, are advising the CT AHEC Network on ways to develop more robust evaluations by strengthening their assessment tools, clarifying the language, re-examining the target audience, and defining what program managers want to know and do with student evaluations.

One of MassAHEC’s responsibilities is to help the CT AHEC Network develop and implement a retrospective format for evaluations that includes pre- and post-assessment components. At the end of the program, students are asked to look back and rate their knowledge or skill level before they participated, and then rate what they know or can do after having completed the program. 

“It gives you a richer look at the knowledge gain and skill development that occurred,” Lang said.

Lang and Dr. Vallejos also will provide a training session for the CT AHEC Network’s Data Task Force on how to develop robust program learning objectives and outcome measures. A method that will enable all AHECs to strengthen evaluation tools and processes will be presented at the National AHEC Organization conference in Washington, D.C., in June.

The six CT AHEC Network’s pipeline programs each address at least one of five competency areas that were developed two years ago by MassAHEC as a national model for AHECs. The competencies aim to increase student knowledge and skills in 1) the U.S. health care system; 2) the importance of healthy lifestyles; 3) primary care, public health and other health career options; 4) leadership; and 5) education and career planning.

Health professions students are brought into the programs to introduce learners to a variety of health professions. In Connecticut, for example, a five-hour, one-day program on biomedical engineering features health professions students from six disciplines who introduce middle and high school learners to this specialized field, and provides a hands-on opportunity for them to build a hydraulic arm or design and build a prosthetic leg or heart valve.

MassAHEC, which is based at Commonwealth Medicine and has six centers in Massachusetts, has increased statewide access to educational opportunities in health care to hundreds of high school and college students.