Winnetonka High School student Patreice Coccia aspires to be a medical examiner someday. Through KC HealthTracks’ inaugural summer camp, she received a behind-the-scenes, hands-on introduction to a career in healthcare.

“I learned how to intubate, spike an IV bag and lots of other things I didn’t know about,” said Coccia, one of 20 students who participated in the program. “It helped inform me on things I can do for my career. We toured a cadaver lab, and I now know that I am able to withstand that.”

The goal of KC HealthTracks is to increase the number of high school students from under-resourced area schools to attend higher education training programs to grow a skilled, diverse workforce for the healthcare and biosecurity industries. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health National Workforce Diversity Pipeline awarded a $2.5 million grant to the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Nursing and Health Studies to direct KC HealthTracks. Partners include KC STEM Alliance, Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley, Project Lead the Way, West Central Missouri AHEC (Area Health Education Center), Missouri HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America)and the Kansas City Area Education Research Consortium. The project will be available in Kansas City during a five-year period.

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KC HealthTracks students standing around hospital bed
High school students in the KC HealthTracks program are spending time at MCC’s Health Science Institute learning about health-care careers. For instance, they play various roles (such as doctor, nurse, family member) while caring for patients with cardiac and respiratory issues.

In a big classroom in the Health Science Institute at Metropolitan Community College, high school kids sitting at long tables are being welcomed before the day gets officially underway.

“You will have the opportunity to learn from the best and the brightest,” promises Dr. Cheryl Carpenter-Davis, dean of instruction at MCC-Penn Valley, which includes HSI.

“And you are the best and brightest, right?”

These 40 or so students from nine area high schools, mostly freshmen and sophomores, are not just bright – they’re also interested in careers in health care.

Or at least they might be by the time this program, called KC HealthTracks, is over.

HealthTracks is not, however, a one-and-done thing. Instead, it will bring the same group of students – or “cohort,” in education-ese – together at least twice each year while they’re in high school.

Students standing by hospital bed
Bedside manner: The March 4 HealthTracks session included a visit to the Virtual Hospital inside MCC’s Health Science Institute. (Photo by John Baccala, Independence School District)

This “pipeline for the health professions,” funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, is aimed at students from “under-resourced” local high schools. At school, the HealthTracks participants are enrolled in Project Lead the Way, a biomedical sciences curriculum.

To become a HealthTracks participant, students had to be invited by their teacher and then complete an application according to Martha McCabe, KC HealthTracks program director (and executive director of KC STEM Alliance). Each high school could recommend five to six students.

A good chunk of the students’ HealthTracks training will take place at MCC’s Health Science Institute, but they will also visit hospitals and other workplaces, and get math and science tutoring and help with ACT test prep. Incoming juniors will attend a summer camp at UMKC.

Earlier this month at HSI, HealthTracks students:

  • Learned Heartsaver CPR on mannequins of various sizes in an EMS lab.
  • Learned how to prep for surgery and assist a surgeon in the operating room, skills required to be a surgical technologist.
  • Played a variety of roles, from doctor to nurse to family member, while caring for patients with cardiac and respiratory issues in the simulated environment of the Virtual Hospital.

Afterward, when asked to evaluate the day, students gave the HealthTracks experience at MCC an overall 4.81 out of 5 points.

Students practicing CPR on test dummy
All the participants will learn basic CPR

And when asked about three things they’d learned that day, the list included:

How to work a surgical camera.

Questions to ask patients.

I learned the Heimlich maneuver on a baby.

What surgical techs do.

The difference between technician and technologist.

Really important to wash hands when doing a surgery.

The $2.5 million federal grant covers five years. Each year, a new group of 40 freshmen and sophomores will be added. A total of 200 students over the five years will benefit. From MCC’s perspective, the hope is that many of these high school students will choose to attend college here.

This year’s participating high schools are Fort Osage, Grandview, East (Kansas City Public Schools), Truman, William Chrisman, Van Horn, North Kansas City, Oak Park and Winnetonka. Center and Ruskin will join this fall for years 2 – 5.

Carpenter-Davis says MCC is pleased to be in partnership with KC STEM Alliance on this project.

At HSI, the high school students “have the opportunity to experience the intensity of patient care in a controlled environment,” she says. “We are excited to provide this real-life experience for them and look forward to having them on campus.”

Instructor at front of classroom with CPR test dummies
Chad Wright, EMS education program coordinator at MCC, welcomes HealthTracks students to the Heartsaver CPR class.

By Tim Engle from MCC Newsroom, March 16, 2016


The goal of KC HealthTracks is to increase the number of local high school students matriculating to health professions programs in higher education in order to grow a skilled, diverse workforce prepared to positively impact the healthcare and biosecurity industries. While concurrently enrolled in Project Lead the Way (PLTW) biomedical sciences courses at their respective high schools, promising students will be selected and tracked as cohort participants to receive coordinated and stacked health-care educational experiences outside of the classroom during the school-year and summer. These added experiences include:

  • Leadership Development
  • Intrusive Advising
  • Extensive Training Lab and Simulation Experiences
  • CPR Certification
  • Focused Summer Experience
  • ACT Test Preparation and Math/Science Tutoring
  • Industry Site Visits

Since it’s recent inception in the fall of 2015, KC HealthTracks has reached out to over seven high schools with 40 students marked as “promising students” that will succeed with the proper resources in their choice of a health professional career path. We have the right resources to help them overcome barriers that may prevent them from being successful.

Over the course of five years, the $2.5 million grant will support a portion of PLTW Biomedical Sciences teachers’ salaries and provide meaningful experiences directly for KC HealthTracks participants and indirectly for all PLTW Biomedical Sciences students.

KC HealthTracks is a unique collaboration of community, post-secondary institutions, and selected high schools . Through these partnerships the goal is execute a strategic plan that will impact a minimum of 200 high school students by equipping them with state of the art training, personal guidance, academia support, and materials to help them enter the medical workforce.