The wall in Tina Basinger’s McKinney North High School office is lined with photos, letters and graduation announcements from former students of one of McKinney Independent School District’s (MISD) most innovative programs. On days that are particularly challenging for this registered nurse-turned-teacher, reading a few of those notes “reminds me why I chose to teach,” she says.

It requires a certain dedication for a nurse to move from the hospital to the classroom. After all, the transition sometimes means a reduced salary. But looking at the wall-to-wall testimonials, the “why” is clear. Basinger and her fellow Health Science Technical Education (HSTE) teachers love their professions so much, and they want to pass on their enthusiasm. The opportunity to instill empathy and compassion in students at the beginning of their own journeys is priceless.

McKinney North is the hub of the HSTE program that offers juniors and seniors the choice of various tracks in the health professions: certified nursing assistant (CNA), pharmacy technician, emergency medical technician (EMT) and – new to the program for the 2014-2015 year – pre-physical therapy and personal training. Students from McKinney Boyd High School and McKinney High School come to McKinney North for their classes.

Teacher Cheryl Bevington (in white coat) enjoys helping students get real-world experience while still in high school.

Teacher Cheryl Bevington (in white coat) enjoys helping students get real-world experience while still in high school.

 

In addition to classroom instruction, the CNA students spend part of their time with residents at North Park Nursing Home in McKinney, and are then able to gain practical experience “shadowing” in private doctors’ offices, as well as at a trio of hospitals: Medical Center of McKinney, Baylor Medical Center at McKinney and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Allen.

Students have witnessed the inner workings of an emergency room and attended surgeries, Caesarian and natural deliveries. Students from the other clinical programs also have the opportunity to participate in rotations at local hospitals, pharmacies, doctors’ offices, physical therapy clinics, gyms and fitness centers.

“I’ve seen kids blossom through this program,” Basinger says. “They develop incredible compassion. Students have the opportunity to be exposed and get a head start. I love seeing the excitement on their faces when they come back from seeing a surgery. I feel like I’m touching patients through my kids.”

 

 

Called to Teach

Basinger was a registered nurse working in a hospital when she was encouraged by a friend to apply at McKinney North as a teacher. The problem was, she wasn’t trained as a teacher, and changing professions was the farthest thing from her mind. But her friend saw her potential and scheduled Basinger for an interview. When she decided to go forward with the new career path, Basinger earned her certification, and the rest is history.

Teacher Cheryl Bevington (in white coat) enjoys helping students get real-world experience while still in high school.

Teacher Cheryl Bevington (in white coat above and below) enjoys helping students get real-world experience while still in high school.

Teacher Cheryl Bevington (in white coat) enjoys helping students get real-world experience while still in high school.

That was 2001. Since then, more than 300 students from McKinney’s three participating high schools have graduated from the CNA program. Each of their names appears on a wall in one of the classrooms. And in the 13 years since Basinger took a leap of faith to become a teacher, the program has had a 100 percent passing rate.

Students decide during their sophomore year whether the HSTE program interests them, and then apply early in their junior year. This academic year, the HSTE program includes 50 CNA, 15 EMT, 25 pharmacy tech, 30 physical therapy and 14 personal training students. For the CNA track, the largest group, 153 students applied for the 2014-2015 academic year, so the program is quite competitive.

No more than 10 students per one instructor are allowed per class, so students reap the benefits not only of more individualized attention, but closer camaraderie with their classmates. A mentoring program offers additional encouragement as students encounter new patients and challenges on a weekly basis.

Plans to Expand

MISD has ambitious plans for the HSTE program, hoping to eventually add a dedicated wing at McKinney North, more teachers and additional tracks. Current facilities are already impressive. In fact, former students report that their nursing schools’ training facilities aren’t as sophisticated.

Take a tour through the school’s training area, and you’ll find a large room filled with gurneys, dummies and a huge array of medical equipment, all of which students use to practice taking vitals, administering general care and, ultimately, completing their tests for certification.

So what’s the value in becoming certified in high school? For one thing, the program weeds out the mildly interested from the sincerely passionate. When you consider the cost of nursing school and college, imagine the value of gaining a realistic picture in high school of the career you’re considering. You then have the opportunity to change your mind before you and your parents invest thousands in higher education. Also, the lessons students learn aren’t just valuable in a clinical setting.

“The skills you’re learning here really build the foundation,” says Taylor Woodall, a McKinney North junior and HSTE student. “You’re learning ethical behavior, how to work with others. You develop integrity and respect.”

Another student explains that she now starts to “offer help more quickly” to strangers in need. “The pre-determined barriers just go away,” according to Lauren Lake, also a McKinney North junior.

 

 

As students share some of their favorite stories of patients who made an impact on them and confirmed their decision to pursue a career in health care, it becomes obvious that these future health care professionals are taking home some profound lessons.

Students learn skills at McKinney North High School and work with patients throughout the community.

Students learn skills at McKinney North High School and work with patients throughout the community.

 

“Technical skills are the foundation for this job and are critical to providing safe, effective care,” says Cheryl Bevington, a teacher and registered nurse who has found her dream job incorporating both professions. “However, in order for students to master the art of becoming a CNA, they must be able to weave dignity and compassion into everything they do. When I watch my students, it brings so much joy to my heart knowing they’re making such a difference in the lives of their patients.

“The goals I have for my students are coming to life. It’s easy to get caught up this fast-paced environment. When people begin treating this as just another job, then I encourage them to re-evaluate whether direct patient care is the place for them. We should always make time to stop and listen to our patients. As a teacher, I feel honored having the opportunity to make sure my students are starting off their careers in health care in the right direction.”

Hannah Fowler, now a registered nurse working nights in Labor and Delivery at Medical Center of McKinney, is a 2008 graduate of the HSTE program and one of its many success stories. She received her CNA designation through the program and began working just one month after high school graduation. She went on to nursing school at Collin College, and received her bachelor’s degree at Texas Tech University in 2013. In January, she’ll begin her studies to become a family nurse practitioner – equivalent to a master’s degree – at Texas Woman’s University.

Tina Basinger’s office wall tells a story of student success.

Tina Basinger’s office wall tells a story of student success.

 

“The medical field was where my heart was, and without the program, I wouldn’t have been able to graduate high school and start working at a hospital the next month,” she says, adding that the experience made her much better prepared for nursing school. “Ms. Basinger – Ms. B., as we called her – had the biggest impact on me,” Fowler continues. “Everything I have today is because of her. She was a second mother to us. It was so comforting to know you had that kind of support.”

Those pictures on Basinger’s wall tell a heart-warming story about the promise of our next generation. The next time you find yourself in one of McKinney’s medical establishments, you just might spot one of these young practitioners and, rest assured, you’ll be in good hands.

 

About the author: Courtney Roush is a McKinney-based freelance writer. She can be contacted at cerroush@gmail.com.