A person in medical gear standing while looking at a computer screen
The project, Pathways for Authentic Teaching of Health Sciences, will provide 60 teachers with curriculum support and professional development to engage and prepare students interested in health sciences careers. (Getty Images)

NIH grant supports VCU project to help Virginia teachers foster interest in health careers

The $1.3 million grant to School of Education professor Elizabeth Edmondson will support 60 teachers in underserved areas across Virginia.

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Elizabeth Edmondson, Ph.D., a research professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education, was recently awarded a $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to launch a project that will support high school teachers as they foster interest in health sciences careers for high school students across Virginia in historically underserved urban and rural areas.

A portrait of a woman with short curly gray hair wearing a black sports coat, white shirt, and a necklace with a dark blue pendant.
Elizabeth Edmondson, Ph.D., a research professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning in the VCU School of Education. (Contributed photo)

The five-year project, Pathways for Authentic Teaching of Health Sciences (PATHS), will provide 60 teachers with curriculum support and professional development to engage and prepare students interested in pursuing careers in health professions, including medical lab sciences, physical therapy and occupational therapy, radiation science and dental hygiene.

“We expect that this project will bring awareness of careers in health professions as well as the disparities in health care,” Edmondson said. “We believe that the availability of resources developed by the project and the professional development will support teachers and their communities.”

Many secondary and postsecondary students are unfamiliar with the array of careers available in the health professions, she said, and the project aims to raise awareness of the many opportunities that students might be interested in pursuing.

“Health professions offer students the opportunity to enter the profession from a variety of trajectories,” she said. “Students may receive health professional certification after completing high school programs, community college, or four- to six-year college programs. This variety of entry points and pathways allows an individual to continue their education as needed or desired.”

As part of the project, teachers will participate in two summer institutes and will receive support during school-year follow-up sessions and virtual coaching. The project team and the Virginia Area Health Education Centers will support teachers and their students with sharing their learning at community health fairs, STEM fairs and other student research conferences.

“If the PATHS program is successful in accomplishing our aims, we believe we will increase awareness and understanding among students and teachers,” Edmondson said. “This leading to increased enrollment in programs in STEM-H and an improved understanding of health issues.”

In addition to Edmondson, the project will involve Lisa Abrams, Ph.D., a professor and interim chair of the Department of Foundations of Education in the School of Education; Hillary Parkhouse, Ph.D., an associate professor in the School of Education; Angela Duncan, Ph.D., the associate dean for diversity, inclusion and equity and an assistant professor in the College of Health Professions; and Yonella Demars, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the College of Health Professions.