WHEN HE CAME TO Southern Hills Medical Center in Las Vegas four years ago, CEO Kim Anderson wanted to find ways for the hospital to partner with the community. He got his wish right away.

“One way that had come to my mind was working withthe schools in some form or fashion,” Anderson says. “I recalled a program I’d seen elsewhere that brought in high school students and put them with nurses and other clinicians. We thought it was worth pursuing.”

It was a natural fit for Anderson and his facility, as he was on a local high school’s advisory board and quickly identified that opportunity. He then spoke with Jasmine Smith, who now is the facility’s marketing and volunteer coordinator but at the time was a Healthcare Administration student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who reached out to West Career and Technical Academy, a magnet school with a healthcare career track. By 2011, the High School to Healthcare (H2H) Program was born.

“We wanted to work with students who have an interest in nursing, sports medicine, biomed … all across the services that we have here at Southern Hills,” Anderson says. “So we sat down and roughed out a plan. It was an experiment, to say the least, but it quickly took shape.”

Covering all the bases

Students who were chosen to participate — from the beginning, there has been a waiting list — come to the hospital once a week for this free, after school program. They hear speakers from various service lines, who not only talk about their jobs but also what classes the students can take to help prepare for those specific careers. The idea was to present as many different aspects of healthcare as possible, so that students with a general interest could find the area that suits them, says Joyce Goedeke, vice president of marketing and public relations.

“Many of them come in wanting to be doctors, especially pediatricians, because that’s what they’ve been exposed to,” Goedeke says. “When we get them here and they meet not only doctors, but also nurses from various specialties, lab techs, dietitians and administration, they often change their mind. A big hit has been the paramedics and the flight crews from our helicopter.”

The program officially kicked off in 2012, with 30 juniors and seniors. It runs for eight to 10 weeks, meeting once a week, in the fall and winter/spring. A second, parallel program has been added just for pre-nursing students, while the original effort remains focused on general hospital and healthcare operations.

“For both programs, we spend the first part meeting in a classroom and hearing speakers, and then the second half is spent divided into groups and shadowing people in different departments,” Smith says. “Now that we have had some students, we have been able to ask them what else they are interested in, so we can continue to grow in different directions.”

Students show commitment

The fact that students give up their own time to participate, and cannot miss any sessions early on if they want to participate in the shadowing portion of the program, says a lot about how dedicated they are, Anderson says.

“They really put in the effort — we could probably add another program and fill it up as well,” he says.

The program has been featured on the local PBS station, and the hospital was recognized by the Clark County School District, the fifth-largest school district in the nation. It also won an HCA Innovators Award at the facility level. And all that praise is well deserved, says Kristi Semmler, community partnership coordinator for West Career and Technical Academy.

“We reached out to Southern Hills in hopes that they would come to one of our ‘meet and greet’ events,” Semmler says. “What we got has been amazing. They have been so accommodating, not just by creating this program, but tailoring it to students’ requests and needs. We have enjoyed watching it grow to include not just nursing and premed but also biotech, sports medicine and more. This has been a great conclusion for all the practical skills our students have been working on. It’s really inspiring.”