Mike Foss says there were a number of motivating factors that contributed to the creation and recent expansion of the Web site healthprograms.org.
For starters, organizers wanted to make it easier for people to find information about health programs at the area’s community colleges, said Foss, dean of the School of Health Sciences at Springfield Technical Community Col-lege. Also, those schools wanted to pool their resources and gain some additional exposure at a time when budgets are extremely tight.
But the primary motivation, he said, was the ongoing shortage of professionals in a number of health care fields, and a desire among the community colleges to put forth information about those careers and then provide a road map on how to pursue them.
“The more the public knows about careers in health care and how to pursue them, the better off we’re all going to be,” said Foss, referring, collectively, to the area’s community colleges, health care providers, and, ultimately, the people receiving care. “We want to put as much information in front of these people as we can.
“Everyone is here for the patients,” he said of the region’s health care providers and schools with health programs. “And you can only take care of the patients if you have quality caregivers.”
The site, which took its expanded form earlier this summer, provides a complete list of all health offerings at STCC, Holyoke Community College (HCC), Berkshire Community College (BCC), and Greenfield Community College (GCC) — 41 in all. It also provides information on what are considered the ‘hot’ careers in health care at the moment, some advice on what employers are looking for from professionals in various fields, links to some of the region’s major employers, and some advice that may help individuals determine if health careers are right for them.
As for the colleges themselves, Cheryl Dorfman, assistant dean of Academic Affairs and director of the Nursing, Health, and Human Services Division at BCC, said the Web site is another example of how the schools are collaborating in the wake of budget cuts to the community college system. She told The Healthcare News that the site brings some additional exposure for the schools, especially in areas beyond their immediate market, but, more importantly, it more efficiently links students with the courses and programs they need.
“Students and prospective students now have much more information at their disposal,” she explained. “Before, when each school had its own Web site, finding information was much more difficult … it was hit or miss.”
Healthprograms.org has won high praise from other academicians who have perused it, said Foss, adding that the Health Sciences dean at Mount Wachusett Community College is already looking at doing something similar with the schools in the central part of the state. Meanwhile, there is some preliminary talk of expanding the model to include all 15 of the state’s community colleges.
The Healthcare News looks this month at how healthprograms.org came together, and it examines the benefits the site brings to the colleges, area employers, and especially the next generation of health care professionals.
Foss, the so-called ‘Web master’ for healthprograms.org, said that, as he was putting the information for the site together this past spring, he was struck by the number of health programs being offered at the four schools and the depth of those areas. “I had no clue that we had that many … it was a real eye-opener,” he said. “And if I didn’t know, I think it’s fair to say that many of the people thinking about careers in health care don’t know either.”
The list of programs includes everything from Nursing to Opticianry, Occupational Therapy to a Personal Trainer certificate, Pre-dental to Cosme-tology, said Foss, noting that many programs are offered at several of the schools, while others are offered at just one or a few.
Directing students to where the programs are offered is one of the primary missions of the new Web site, he said, adding that each school gets dozens of calls each year from students and prospective students wondering if a particular institution has a specific program.
“We redesigned the site so anyone could find information on every program being offered in Western Mass. by the community colleges,” he said
But the site goes well beyond merely listing the health care profession and giving a contact, phone number, and E-mail address for each school offering that program. By clicking on one of those fields, an individual can read about what that profession involves, what the job market looks like, and what credentials people need to perform that job, said Foss.
Click on ‘Radiology (X-ray) — Medical Imaging,’ for example, and one could read this detailed summary of that field and its future:
“Some employers report shortages of radiologic technologists and technicians. Imbalances between the supply of qualified workers and demand should spur efforts to attract and retain qualified radiologic technologists and technicians. For example, employers may provide more flexible training programs, or improve compensation and working conditions … radiologic technologists who are educated and credentialed in more than one type of diagnostic imaging technology, such as Radiography and Sonography or Nuclear Medicine, will have better employment opportunities as employers look for new ways to control costs. In hospitals, multi-skilled employees will be the most sought-after, as hospitals respond to cost pressures by continuing to merge departments.”
Such descriptions are designed to fuel interest in health care careers, said Foss, but also give prospective health care workers an honest look at what they can expect to see happening in that field, short- and long-term.
Other features on the site include a ‘hot health careers’ section — Surgical Technology, Opticianry, Clinical Lab Science, and Respiratory Care are among the fields on that list — as well as a job-search section. By clicking there, individuals can find links to many of the region’s top health care employers, including Baystate Health System, the Sisters of Providence Health System, Genesis Elder Care, and the Commonwealth Registry of Nurses, among others. There are also links to masslive.com and the Boston Globe’s employment section.
There is also a section on the site called ‘what employers want,’ a list of some of the skills preferred in today’s health care field. These include good communication skills, the ability to be a self-starter, high ethical standards, good people skills, and willingness to be a team player.
Becoming a Hit
While the Web site helps steer individuals toward careers in health care, it also provides benefits for employers and the community colleges themselves, said Foss.
Citing Berkshire Health Systems (BHS) as one example, he said the site is becoming a useful resource in that facility’s efforts to encourage employees to seek new and different opportunities in health care.
Arthur Milano, vice president of Human Resources at BHS, said the system has an ambitious tuition-assistance program aimed at helping the hospital meet shortages and anticipated shortages in Radiology, Nursing, and other fields. One key to that program’s success is making employees aware of how and where they can pursue degrees that will lead to jobs in those fields.
“This Web site is certainly going to help us get information to people,” said Milano. “Before, when people came to us looking for direction, we could only provide it on a piecemeal basis. This site brings it all together — it’s truly one-stop shopping.”
Said Foss, “Berkshire, like other major employers, has had problems keepinjg track of which schools offer what programs. Now, they don’t have to go to multiple Web sites to get that information.”
As for the colleges themselves, the Web site provides some additional exposure at a time when budgets are tight and marketing initiatives are being scaled back, said Dorfman.
She told The Healthcare News that the Web site gives BCC some exposure in Hampshire and Hampden counties. And, while many students may be unwilling or unable to commute long distances for a course or degree program, some might.
“This gives us a chance to put our programs in front of more people,” she said. “At the same time, the site gives people, including our students, a chance to see what the other schools are offering; this is going to be a tremendous resource.”
One of the challenges for the schools involved is to market the Web site itself, and make students, high school guidance counselors, and employers aware of its existence.
To that end, the schools are exploring various promotional strategies. Foss wants to print the Web site on the small rulers that students in a variety of health care fields carry with them. Meanwhile, the name healthprograms.org is working its way onto the letterhead of a number of health programs, and the schools are looking at creating posters that promote the site.
“It takes awhile for something like this to get phased in,” said Foss. “But once the site gains an identity, I think it will really take off.”
And if it does, then it should become an important resource in the effort to promote health careers and guide people into them.