The College of Health Professions at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) is celebrating a significant milestone as it secures its largest grant to date. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has awarded UTHSC a grant totaling approximately $3.25 million to support a new Health Careers Opportunity Program (HCOP). This groundbreaking five-year grant, known as Reimagining Education for Advance Careers in Healthcare (REACH), aims to strengthen health care education while addressing the critical need for a skilled and diverse health care workforce in West Tennessee.
Chermale Casem, MBA, PHR, CDE, assistant dean of Finance and Operations in the College of Health Professions, leads the charge as the principal investigator and project director. She is joined by dedicated co-investigators: Jacen Moore, PhD, MLS (ASCP), associate professor in the Department of Diagnostic and Health Sciences; LaToya Green, DPT, EdD, PT, associate professor of physical therapy; and Pamela Lewis-Kipkulei, PhD, OTD, OTR/L, associate professor of occupational therapy.
Allied health professionals are often the hidden and unsung heroes who comprise a significant portion of the health care workforce and assist primary care professionals in preventing, diagnosing, and treating various medical conditions across specialties. The REACH project's core objectives include increasing recruitment, retention, and graduation rates for underserved students aspiring to pursue careers in health care professions, with a primary focus on medical laboratory science, occupational therapy, and physical therapy.
The REACH project comprises three structured programs catering to various stages of a student's academic journey.
Ms. Casem said, "The first program is the HCOP Saturday Academy, geared towards juniors and seniors in high school from underserved communities, providing them with exposure to health professions through academic enrichment activities, career exploration, mentoring, tutorial support, and SAT/ACT preparation."
The second program, the HCOP Pre-Matriculation Academy, targets undergraduate students in their junior and senior years aspiring to enter a health care profession. Ms. Casem said, "This program equips them with the skills and knowledge needed for successful matriculation into a graduate program, including application requirements, mock-program interviews, job shadowing, standardized testing preparation, and resume building."
The third program, the HCOP National Ambassadors Program, serves graduate students already enrolled in UTHSC's College of Health Professions. According to Ms. Casem, this program aims to enhance professional development opportunities and offer advanced training in community-based settings to address social determinants of health effectively.
Each academy within the REACH project employs evidence-based curricula and leverages innovative teaching methods such as flipped classrooms and virtual, augmented, and mixed-reality tools. Students will receive financial support through stipends and scholarships, academic assistance, social support from tutors and mentors, and professional development opportunities, including clinical practicum experiences and soft skills training. Eligibility for these programs is based on HRSA's criteria for educationally or economically disadvantaged students.
Collaboration with community partners, including high schools, undergraduate institutions, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and clinical practices, enhances these resources, creating a competitive educational pipeline.
Stephen Alway, PhD, FACSM, dean of the College of Health Professions, expressed his excitement about the potential impact of this grant, saying, "We are excited about both the size and the impact that this award will have for our college and the state of Tennessee. This grant provides the potential to reach students from underserved communities who might not have had access to information or training related to health professions. Furthermore, we expect the new scholarship funding provided by this grant to encourage increased retention of the great students we have enrolled in health professions. This award allows the College of Health Professions to take a crucial step towards addressing our college's mission to provide the people of Tennessee with access to quality higher education and enhanced quality-of-life opportunities."
The REACH project represents a significant investment in the future of education and workforce development in health professions, promising to not only transform the lives of underserved students but also strengthen the health care workforce in West Tennessee, ultimately improving health outcomes and equity in the region.