Resources and Strategies to Expand and Diversify the School Health Pipeline

As school districts across the country work to identify and direct resources to better meet the comprehensive health needs of students, they are encountering a complex problem: a shortage of healthcare professionals.

The problem is further compounded by the need for a diversified health workforce — one that reflects the ethnic and racial makeup of the student body.

Healthy Schools Campaign is acutely aware of this need. For the past decade, we have helped states expand access to school health services including mental healthcare.

In 2022, we co-published a report on state opportunities to advance comprehensive school mental health systems, which included recommendations for expanding and supporting a diverse, culturally effective mental health workforce. Our latest report on states that have expanded school Medicaid notes that Medicaid reimbursement can be reinvested into school health services, including hiring additional health professionals.

Yet the challenges are numerous. Dr. Kimá Joy Taylor, an expert on health policy, public health and racial disparities, recently spoke with HSC’s national program director, Jessie Mandle, on ways to diversify and expand the school health pipeline.

Their conversations, captured in these two videos, address why a diversified workforce and equity are important, the roles of schools and partners in helping to build a diverse workforce pipeline, and the resources and supports needed to advance this work.

HSC produced related slides highlighting the themes and takeaways of their conversations, along with supplementary resources, policy recommendations and federal funding options to help states address school health workforce needs. In addition, HSC identified activities in seven states supporting strategies to expand and diversify the school health workforce.

In South Carolina, for example, several school districts have partnered with the Medical University of South Carolina Boeing Center for Children’s Wellness (MUSC BCCW). One program involves using telehealth to connect students to high-quality care beyond what otherwise might be available to them outside of school. Telehealth also lessens transportation and geographic barriers — especially challenging among those living in high-poverty and rural areas — that can inhibit adequate access to care.

Nevada is leveraging $10.3 million in federal funding through the U.S. Department of Education’s School-Based Mental Health Services Grant Program to expand the state’s pipeline for school-based mental health service providers. Recognizing the urgent need for culturally and linguistically responsive services, the state has taken steps to train providers from within local communities through investments in a partnership with the Nevada System of Higher Education.

In addition, Nevada State College has implemented the Active Recruitment, Training, and Educator Retention (ARTERY) Pipeline Framework, a series of stacked degree programs with varying entry and exit points to accommodate high school students, two- or four-year college students, working graduates, and graduate students alike. Offering flexible pathways to becoming qualified makes school-based mental health service roles accessible to students from diverse backgrounds.

Studies suggest that when the health workforce represents the diversity of the population being served, patients are more likely to seek healthcare and there is greater trust and communication. All providers, said Dr. Taylor, should provide culturally and linguistically responsive care, yet a diverse workforce also offers role models; when students interact with health professionals who reflect the communities they serve, students see the possibility of what they can achieve.

As Dr. Taylor told HSC, it’s OK for schools to start working toward diversifying from whatever position they’re in — it’s just important that they start.

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