Wolfpack: Health Fellows Academy

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Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady University will launch Wolfpack: Health Fellows Academy, a three-year pilot project to engage 120 students with intensive, immersive educational experiences leading to heightened awareness of healthcare careers, personal wellness and community health beginning Summer 2024 thanks to the BCBSLA Foundation funding of $110,000.

HFA is designed for high school students from communities defined by low quality-of-life metrics, including healthcare access/outcomes and low participation rates in post-secondary education. Goals include increasing the number of capable and highly motivated high school students interested in entering and completing healthcare-related studies; expanding career and educational choices of under-resourced, diverse high school students; and supporting the personal health of each Fellow and the members of their communities.

"We're excited to support this partnership between FranU and BRYC to help open doors to healthcare professions for more students. This kind of hands-on experience and support helps meet the demands of the healthcare workforce shortage while also paving the way for diversity in the field," said Chloé Wiley, the Blue Cross Foundation's initiatives manager.

Beginning this summer, HFA will host two cohorts of rising sophomores and juniors annually for a week-long intensive, hands-on learning experience on FranU's campus. Fellows will be introduced to various healthcare careers, including but not limited to in Radiologic Technology, Medical Laboratory Sciences, Nursing, Physical Therapy, Nutritional Sciences, Respiratory Therapy and Applied Behavior Analysis.

Participants will interact with healthcare professionals and participate in simulation exercises. At the end of each summer week-long intensive experience, each cohort will assist in administering free health screenings to family members and others at a community health fair sponsored by HFA healthcare partners—the service to be offered twice each summer in North Baton Rouge. Fellows will also attend four bi-monthly workshops from September to March that will include engaged learning experiences such as field trips, expert panels, and speaker presentations.

Beginning fall 2025, FranU will start to offer dual-enrollment courses for juniors and seniors from the summer cohorts who are interested in earning college credit, building upon what was learned during the summer program.

Interdisciplinary courses such as introduction to health professions, mathematics, biology, chemistry or other first year college level courses, will be offered during fall and spring semesters. To complete the academy and earn a college scholarship, Fellows must complete the summer program, attend all four workshops from the summer, and pass at least one dual-enrollment course.

By contributing to the participant's ability to access upwardly mobile career opportunities while meeting the needs of their communities, HFA addresses three critical Social Determinants of Health: Economic Stability, Education Access & Quality, and Healthcare Access & Quality. Key to the project is access to quality educational enrichment and immersive experiences outside of the traditional classroom. Finally, Fellows will learn multiple skills and concepts regarding their own health and why accessing regular healthcare services is critical to good health, healthy families and healthy communities.

Alicia Bates, director of the FranU program, said that representation matters. "When we have a more diverse and culturally competent healthcare workforce, we can better serve and care for all individuals who live within our local communities."

Data from Peterson KFF Health System Tracker between January 2017 and June 2023 shows that health sector employment remains below trends seen before the pandemic, particularly for elderly care facilities, skilled nursing facilities, home health, and outpatient care centers.

The Business Report noted that Louisiana's nursing shortage is projected to exceed 7,200 by 2025. HRSA projects the following demands for Allied Health Workers by 2030: a 26% increase in demand for physical therapists, a 21% increase in demand for registered dietitians, and a 30% increase in demand for respiratory therapists. Meanwhile, the Pelican Institute for Public Policy ranks Louisiana's public schools 49th overall, meaning more students than in other states fail to finish high school or to achieve high enough ACT and SAT scores to attend college.

BRYC will address these issues by helping under-resourced teens enter, excel in, and graduate from college to earn career-track jobs, providing extra help and support outside of school hours. BRYC staff will support the Fellows who participate in HFA as these students explore healthcare careers and become eligible for scholarships and other assistance to succeed in post-secondary study.

The Baton Rouge Youth Coalition (BRYC), a college preparatory nonprofit whose nearly 700 alumni boast an 82% college completion rate, addresses these issues with proven programming that ensures under-resourced teens in the Capital Region enter college affordably, persist, and graduate, then secure career-track jobs. BRYC staff will support the Fellows who participate in HFA as these students explore healthcare careers and become eligible for scholarships and other assistance to succeed in post-secondary study.

"Since 2009, BRYC has supported aspiring Black healthcare professionals toward their career goals and more equitable representation across healthcare and allied fields," said BRYC Chief of Programs Allie Diefendorf. "This goes beyond the economic implications for our alumni and their families — it's a force multiplier, with ripple effects on the health of thousands of underserved Louisianans of color. We're proud to partner with FranU's HFA on pushing the needle even further, and we thank their team and faculty for providing such a robust, sustained learning opportunity to BRYC participants."

FranU will provide campus resources and personnel and will cover most tuition expenses, representing a total investment of $248,250. BRYC will recruit students to HFA and will provide individual student support, such as academic tutoring, college test prep, and data tracking.

Another key program partner, the Baton Rouge Clinic, will provide scholarships and community health fairs through a $40,000 investment and staff support. Both the Baton Rouge General and Our Lady of the Lake Health (OLOL) have committed to personnel and facilities support, and OLOL has made a commitment of $20,000 to support tuition for dual-enrolled courses.

Bates concluded, "I am thankful for the partnerships that FranU has with BCBS, BRYC and the Baton Rouge Clinic. Together, we can educate the future healthcare workforce of Louisiana while making a lasting and positive impact on the health and welfare of our Louisiana citizens for decades to come."

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