Dothan Technology Center students taking health and biomedical science courses will benefit from a partnership with Houston County’s largest employer, Southeast Health.

The medical group officially established the Southeast Health Academy at Dothan High School’s campus Friday.

The partnership with Dothan City Schools is anticipated to create a long-lasting talent pipeline to the student body while cultivating their educational experience and giving them more exposure to the field.

Kelly Hurt, Southeast Health’s vice president of human resources, said the health-care organization approached the school system.

“We felt like it was a good opportunity to really be able to tap into the programs they already had in health to give the students more real hands-on exposure to working in a health-care environment,” he said. “The ability to be able to have them have the exposure through the internships and the job shadowing and tours will help them shape what they would like to do for careers moving forward.”

Southeast Health will also help the two existing courses with instruction by providing at least three guest speakers a year, literature, equipment, supplies, classroom materials, technology, guidance for curriculum that aligns with workplace needs (i.e. hourly rounding, AIDET, whiteboard training), and will sponsor students to succeed in competitive events.

The overall financial contribution will be $130,000 throughout the three years in addition to nonmonetary support.

“To teach biomedical sciences, there is quite an investment,” DTC biomedical sciences instructor Jennifer Walworth said. “Some of the things I’ve budgeted for just to enhance the program are things like virtual surgeries, where we’ll be able to pipe in and actually watch a surgery take place since we can’t physically go there.”

With a Center of Science and Industry membership, students will be able to view real-time surgeries, medical procedures and autopsies through an interactive videoconference. Students will be able to communicate and ask questions with surgeons afterward and follow up with other activities that mimic actual medical practices.

Walworth said she is pleased that she will be able to offer students more opportunities through activities like virtual field trips that wouldn’t be possible without the additional funding.

“My biomed students really have not been able to go out and see a lot because we don’t typically offer the internship program through the biomed, but now with the partnership there’ll be that opportunity through the student volunteer program. So it’s opened up that entire door for my students to be able to do that where we have not in the past,” she said. “It’s just amazing to have that community support coming our way.”

Walworth said her students have been excited watching the Southeast Health branding going up in their classroom and science lab.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for students to explore their health career choices, and I think that we’ll be able to participate in more activities and expand our horizons with this partnership,” Olivia Burgess, a sophomore, said. “The hands-on experience will help us more with preparing, because learning is not just sitting at a desk and writing with pencil and paper; it’s being able to go out and hands-on learn and be able to develop skills for the future.”

Burgess hopes to go into the field of biochemistry, but Southeast Health is hoping to help put students on a path that will lead back to the health care organization with jobs in nursing, patient care or other nonclinical positions.

Cliff Mendheim, chairman of the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce, said the program is the first of its kind in this area that others are already seeking to model, and the chamber applauds their vision, leadership and commitment to the community.

“It is my hope that this could spark more business involvement from a community standpoint, but specifically this is a way for Southeast Health to invest in our community and in our future by hopefully training out students to be more prepared when they leave school,” Mendheim said. “One of the biggest challenges facing our businesses community today is workforce development — a lack of workforce. This initiative, this program, this commitment, (the chamber) hopes will address that specific need while at the same time helping the youth in our community.”

Southeast Health and Dothan City Schools cut the ribbon officially Friday to commemorate the partnership between the two entities.

School board Chairman Mike Schmitz presented a $15,000 check from state Sen. Donnie Chesteen to go toward improving the career technical offerings at the Dothan Technology Center during Friday’s ceremony.

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