Partnership connects students to fast-growing healthcare field

As baby boomers continue to gray occupational job growth in healthcare could swell 20 percent over the next decade, according to a 2013 “Best Jobs” edition U.S. News & World Report.

Looking ahead, there will be an acute need for dentists (20 percent job growth by 2020), nurses (26 percent), pharmacists (25.4 percent), physicians (24 percent), and physical therapists (39 percent), according to the report.

A new partnership between GHS, Furman, the University of South Carolina and Clemson to create a clinical university uniquely positions Furman undergraduates to thrive in this fast-growing industry. The agreement, too, could make Furman more attractive to high school students seeking a career in healthcare.

The agreement, announced last fall, meshes the expertise of three universities under the umbrella of GHS. Academic and medical experts hope this collaborative model will foster innovations in patient care and accessibility while training physicians, health care providers and administrators to thrive in a fast-changing industry.

Although specific plans have not yet been developed, John Wheeler, Ph.D., director of integrative research in the sciences and professor of chemistry, envisions a dynamic partnership that could include a Furman-GHS bridge program for students entering medical school and vastly expanding internship and research opportunities that could touch nearly every academic department from religion to economics.

“This is a tremendous opportunity,” says Dr. Wheeler. “It places Furman in a unique position over the next decade to create programs that will enormously benefit our students, faculty and community.”

While faculty and office of health careers are currently brainstorming ideas, he said major new initiatives would include the input of the executive director of health education at Furman University and director of undergraduate studies and students at GHS.

The person filling this job, a jointly funded position, will develop a structure and review process for proposals. Dr. Wheeler said the post could be filled by early spring.

For years Furman students and faculty have had relationships with GHS, the Upstate’s largest employer, in the form of shadowing, internships and research. Since 2009, an average of 23 students per semester have been involved in some form of activity on the GHS campus.

According to Susan Ybarra, pre-health coordinator, 37 students are involved in experiences with GHS this fall, and another 30 are already scheduled for the spring semester. The partnership and a rising interest in health careers should fuel further growth. Accordingly, 35 percent of the current freshman class indicates some level of interest in health-related careers.

John Banisaukas, Ph.D., chief health careers advisor, also sees new opportunities for students now and in the future.
“Our students are getting more access to more experiences to better prepare them for that next step,” he said. “The reason we’re the office of health careers is that we’re not just pre-med, pre-dental, pre-nursing. [We’re] opening even more doors for students to get both clinical and nonclinical health care experiences.”

The partnership also brings new opportunities for Furman’s faculty, who will be able to interact with GHS staff and physicians in new ways. With a staff person acting as a conduit between Furman and GHS to facilitate new programs, there will be better ways to track student involvement, assess programs, minimize liabilities, and provide more oversight into the relationship.

“There will be new pathways for our faculty to do collaborative research programs,” said John Beckford, D.M., Furman’s vice president for academic affairs and dean. “And, our faculty will be excited about reaching out to see where they can assist students to gain a richer experience in core courses or extracurricular activities.”

And it could help with recruiting as well said Brad Pochard, vice president for enrollment.

“Students who are interested in health careers naturally gravitate toward a liberal arts education,” he said. “We are selling this hard. The connection gives us an opportunity to say that we have tangible internship opportunities for students who are interested in entering a pre-health field. This gives us something that is both unique and distinctive.”

As the undergraduate partner in the clinical university model, Furman will manage a process that also available to students at other colleges. Brenda Thames, vice president of academic development for GHS, says as the primary undergraduate partner, Furman has a leg up over other undergraduate institutions.

As a liberal arts institution, Furman is equipping well-rounded graduates into the health care workforce, something widely recognized as the best pre-professional training for students entering health-related careers.

“A liberal arts education exposes students to the world of ideas in the humanities and the sciences,” said Dr. Banisaukas. “It expands understanding of the human condition, and it enhances the development of human instincts. A rigorous liberal arts education prepares students to meet the challenges and bear the responsibilities that await them in their future careers through mental discipline, exposure to new ideas, experience in research and internships, and study abroad.”

According to Dr. Beckford, pulling the pieces of this partnership together strengthens the kind of graduate Furman will put into the workforce, and in turn, will strengthen the overall Furman degree. Whether students decide to go to medical school or graduate school or go into the job market, they will significantly benefit from the enhanced experiences they carry with them.

“Furman can contribute to helping to develop the health care workforce we need across the country,” said Dr. Beckford. “If we can get [students] focused on working in this area, it will lift up the quality of health care we find in the upstate or in South Carolina in general.  We think that if we can provide a launching pad for students to further their education in health care and continue to practice in this area, it adds to the quality of life and the community in which we live.”

Healthcare photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com