Addressing Health Disparities with School-Based Outreach: the Health Career Academy Program

  • Liana Gefter
  • Judy Spahr
  • John Gruber
  • Sandra Ross
  • Laurie Watson
  • Barry Mann


Pipeline programs address health disparities by promoting academic achievement and entry of low-income ethnic and racial minority youth into healthcare fields. The Health Career Academy (HCA) is a 3-year pipeline program for high school students from low-income, ethnic, and racial minority communities. Health professional students serve as program mentors. The HCA has been implemented in nine US sites, with partnerships between 17 health professional schools and 17 high schools. A total of 386 10th grade students and 95 11th grade students enrolled as participants in the 2015–2016 HCA program. In post-participation surveys, 10th grade students reported that the HCA helped them learn about different healthcare career options, plan for how to reach career goals, and understand how healthcare workers care for patients. Eleventh grade participants noted the program made them aware of the importance of public health and taught them about medical conditions, self-care, and safety. Eighty-six percent of 10th graders and 71% of 11th graders reported that they are considering healthcare careers. Students’ favorite aspects of the HCA included the following: time with mentors, learning about science and health, team collaboration and hands-on experiences, field trips, and team presentations. Teachers noted the following as most important in the program: interaction with mentors and healthcare professionals, learning broadly applicable skills, stimulation of interest in health-related careers, presentation skills, and creating optimism about furthering education. The HCA is well received by participants and can be replicated successfully at multiple sites nationally. By providing mentorship, increasing exposure to health professionals and health careers, offering high-level science and health curriculum, and fostering collaboration and presentation skills, the HCA has potential to increase interest in health professions among racial and ethnic minority youth from low-income communities.


School health Pipeline program Health disparities Adolescent health Medical outreach 



Thanks to Aetna’s Racial and Ethnic Equality Initiative for funding of the HCA. In particular, we would like to thank Wayne Rawlins, Michele Garand, and Dan Knecht for their support.

Thanks to Main Line Health individuals who have volunteered their time and energy to the HCA program, in particular Jeshaunton Essex, Debbie Mantegna, Maureen Krouse, and Chinwe Onyekere. Dianne Butera (Lewis Katz School of Medicine - Temple University), Elissa Goldberg (Drexel University College of Medicine), and Kathryn Trayes (Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University) were instrumental in regionalization of the Philadelphia program.

Additionally, we would like to thank the HCA faculty sponsors and health professional student volunteer mentors at Drexel College of Medicine, Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University, Lewis Katz School of Medicine - Temple University, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Emory School of Medicine, Rollins School of Public Health, Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, Emory's Physician Assistant Program, GA -Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, UTHealth McGovern Medical School, UTHealth School of Dentistry, Loyola Stritch School of Medicine, Duke School of Medicine, University of California Berkeley/San Francisco Joint Medical Program, Samuel Merritt University, USC Keck School of Medicine, Dell Medical School (initiated program 2016-17), and Harvard Medical School (initiated program 2016-17). This program is only possible because of their collective volunteer efforts.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

All surveys were reviewed by Main Line Hospitals Institutional Review Board and these anonymized surveys were granted exemption from IRB oversight under DHHS regulations as defined under 45 CFR 46.101(b)(1).

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© W. Montague Cobb-NMA Health Institute 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Lankenau Medical Center, Main Line HealthWynnewoodUSA
  2. 2.Thomas Jefferson UniversityPhiladelphiaUSA
  3. 3.Friends Central SchoolWynnewoodUSA

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