While employment statistics show that nearly half of 2020 college grads are still struggling to get their careers off the ground, Caitlyn Hahne already has a leg up on hers. And she just graduated from high school.

Hahne, 18, aspires to be a labor and delivery nurse. This summer, she accepted a position as a patient care technician at HCA Houston Healthcare Clear Lake — the first step to what she hopes will be a life-long career in nursing.

“I want to experience the joys of bringing new life into this world and make an impact,” says Hahne.

Hahne is among 36 Clear Creek ISD 2021 grads who participated in StarTech, a pilot workforce development program in which HCA Houston recruited recent high school grads to work as patient care technicians alongside nurses. These students were selected based on their interest in a career in healthcare and were placed at HCA Houston facilities throughout the Houston area.

As a first of its kind in the Houston market, the goal of the program is to create an accelerated career pipeline for a sector of the industry that continues to be wracked by shortages. 

By 2036, the Houston healthcare industry could experience a significant workforce shortage as overall demand for nurses, physicians, and medical technicians grows faster than supply — costing the region $18.6 billion in GDP and 111,000 jobs. That is, if an adequate workforce pipeline fails to be developed, per a released report from Center for Houston’s Future (CHF) Houston’s Economic Future: Health Care.

According to projections from healthcare staffing consultancy Mercer, demand for technicians and technologists will outpace supply by 2025, with an expected shortage of nearly 98,000 trained professionals nationally.

To meet demands, HCA Houston is committed to drawing more young recruits like Hahne into healthcare. Most importantly, keeping them in Texas for the long haul.

A Critical Role in Patient-Centered Care

Whether working in a hospital, nursing home, doctor’s office, or long-term care facility, technicians play a vital role in coordinating care and optimizing patient outcomes.

Under the supervision of a registered nurse, technicians work directly with patients and perform much of the basic care needed for diagnosis or treatment. This can range from assisting with monitoring vital signs, drawing blood, and administering IVs to serving meals, changing bed linens, and bathing patients.

Minnie Washington addresses graduating seniors of Clear Creek ISD entering the StarTech program.

Minnie Washington, who has been with HCA Houston for more than thirty years, says becoming a technician is a great place to start for those interested in nursing.

She, like most registered nurses, began her career as a technician and worked her way up to nursing director of HCA Houston Healthcare Conroe. Now in a leadership role, Washington says she hopes to be a source of inspiration for those considering the career pathway.

“It’s not where you started, it’s where you’re going,” says Washington, who holds her master’s in nursing. “I want these students to know the sky’s the limit to what they can do.”

The paid, five-week program includes a curriculum that focuses on classroom and simulation-based learning, electronic health record training, and real-world clinical training at the hiring hospital.

With its success, program leaders anticipate participation will double next year and are currently exploring expansion opportunities with other Houston-area school districts.

Powering the Med Tech Workforce Pipeline

In recent years, workforce experts have warned of an impending shortage of technicians. At the same time, pandemic burnout has caused many healthcare workers to leave the industry for good.

Last year, HCA Houston partnered with Clear Creek ISD (CCISD) as an innovative way to get abreast of the expected labor shortage and build up competent, confident healthcare professionals of the future.

Oscar Gracia, talent acquisition director of HCA Houston, says the StarTech program serves as a win on all fronts. In the long term, it could help establish a career pipeline of nurses, doctors, and physician assistants. In the short term, it provides opportunity during a time when so many are facing job uncertainty.

“This is an amazing opportunity considering the unemployment rate currently and the number of companies that are looking for experienced workers,” says Gracia, adding that becoming a patient care technician without experience can be difficult. “Having your credential is one thing. Experience is another. At HCA Houston Healthcare, we’ve rarely hired PCTs in the past without any experience up until now.”

Though some lacked experience in a hospital setting, that doesn’t mean program participants on-boarded blindly.

Each participant successfully completed a health science program through CCISD before earning their credentials. They also attended a series of HCA Houston virtual education fairs, where they learned about the company culture, responsibilities of the job, and what it’s like to work in various hospital settings, including the intensive care unit and operating rooms.

Clear Creek ISD graduating seniors attend a signing event for the StarTech program.

This part is key, says Gracia, as a lack of understanding about the position and inner workings of a hospital can contribute to high turnover rate.

“Some employees leave because they don’t know what they’re really getting into before they join,” says Gracia.

Additionally, the program included a mentorship component to help students create their resumes and prep for their interviews. A signing event was held on June 9, 2021 to honor those who made a commitment to HCA Houston.

“I think it’s so great that for so many of these kids, this is the first job that they’ve ever had,” Dana Morgan, career and technical education director for CCISD, said at the event. “How many people can say that the first job they’ve ever had is actually the job that started their career?”

Access to More Affordable Training

Decades of research continues to show that more highly educated healthcare workers improve patient outcomes, including lower hospital mortality. But higher education doesn’t come free.

Part of HCA Healthcare’s commitment to workforce development is to ease some of the financial barriers that may prevent someone from entering – and growing in – the healthcare industry.

As an employee of HCA Houston, graduates of the StarTech program have access to the organization’s generous tuition reimbursement program, which offers up to $5,250 per year for both full and part-time employees. Additionally, those who accepted a full-time position received a $1,000 sign-on bonus. All hires were given their first set of scrubs as a welcome gift.

Caitlyn Hahne, the recent grad who signed on with HCA Houston Clear Lake, says she’s grateful her new employer will be able to take off some of the financial pressures of school. She’ll be attending Alvin Community College in fall 2021, where she will study nursing.

“What I’m looking forward to the most is helping people and hopefully making them smile,” says Hahne. “I’m excited to start my journey.”

For more information, visit: HCAhoustonhealthcare.com