The Department of Education has awarded two five-year federal grants of $3 million to both Cal State Bakersfield and Bakersfield College aimed not just at preparing students for careers in the medical field but at improving the health of Kern County.
The county ranks poorly in health outcomes for its residents: a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation survey ranked it 52 out of 58 counties. But the region has experienced a boom in health care jobs over the last few years, many of them well-paying and in high demand. The grant is aimed at making sure underrepresented students have access to those opportunities.
And though the deadline for the grant application came well before COVID-19, the need for more robust health education and a strong public health workforce has only become more clear, according to college administrators.
"With the current health crisis happening across America, the need is obvious," said Dr. Todd McBride, associate dean of CSUB's School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics, and Engineering (NSME).
McBride, the principal director for the grant, said the grant is already helping to fund first-year seminars for pre-health majors. Outside of being a doctor or nurse, many students interested in health don't know about the wide variety of paths available to them. Some of these positions are in high demand, and have competitive pay, he said.
This intro-level class will teach students about jobs in the health care field, like becoming a pharmacist, health educator, phlebotomist, health educator, radtech, physician's assistant or physical therapist. Guest speakers will come in to discuss their path.
McBride said a course like this can be a game-changer for the community. Students start to get a better sense of what they'd like to do with their career, and they're more likely to stay on track in their education. The community is getting the homegrown, educated health professionals it needs. McBride said Kern Public Health and local hospitals are excited at the prospect of students on track.
CSUB is also working on developing a new public health major, which involves the faculty of the nursing, kinesiology and biology departments. This degree is currently under review by the CSUB Academic Senate, but the grant would help support the development of the major, in part by enabling the university to hire two additional faculty.
Bakersfield College's grant shares many of the same goals, and McBride says the schools have worked together to make sure the transfer process is seamless for students from BC interested in health.
"We’re making sure that the two will dovetail nicely," he said.
BC's grant will also help strengthen the connections between the college and the Rural Health Equity and Learning (HEAL) Collaborative, which includes Fresno State, UC Merced and UC San Francisco. Cindy Collier, BC’s Director of the Student Health and Wellness Center, said those institutions have been working together to address health disparities in the Central Valley. If a student wants to head to one of those institutions for an advanced degree in public health or physical therapy, for instance, this ensures their path is streamlined.
The grant will also continue to expand the college's Early College program that allows students to graduate from high school with a full associate degree in public health, setting them up to graduate from a CSU or UC two years after high school. As with CSUB, the program aims to open students' eyes to the world of career possibilities in health care.
Centric Health is a partner in a health education class in Delano supported by the grant whose goal is to improve health outcomes in the community. Students in the class will learn to become health educators, starting with their very own families and communities.