With a growing medical complex in Greenville, opportunities for careers in health care abound. For young people, there are ways to explore the options first-hand in high school.

The Pitt County Health Sciences Academy is a partnership between Pitt County Schools, Vidant Health, Pitt Community College, East Carolina University, Brody School of Medicine, School of Dental Medicine at East Carolina University, the Eastern Area Health Education Center, and the Greenville-Pitt County Chamber of Commerce.

This program gives teens an early preview with real-world experiences and in some programming, hands-on applications, said Lisa Lassiter, administrator of Vidant Health Careers. It’s a great way to introduce young people to the broad array of health professions, she said. They’re not for everyone, she acknowledges, but the experience serves a valuable purpose by helping students decide whether health care is really right for them.

“What we find is that the experiences a student receives helps grow a passion for health care in some of our students,” Lassiter said. “We want to help grow the next generation of health professionals right here in our community so we are glad to be a partner.”

The Health Sciences Academy originally launched in six high schools in Pitt County in 2000 and has expanded to include the Pitt County Schools Early College High School and the Innovation Early College High School. Last year alone, 191 students completed the program and have been awarded more than $6 million in scholarships to help them as they continue down their health care journey.

Parents often ask what qualities they should look for in their children who express an interest in a medical field. Lassiter answers resolutely, “Compassion.” It’s possible to teach someone the skills they need, she said, but it’s difficult to teach compassion, which is a necessary quality for those helping people during difficult times.

It’s also important to be able to function well as part of a team. This is true in virtually every health care discipline, she said. It’s also important to be able to work with people in other health care fields as colleagues to care for patients. The experience at Vidant strives to create collaboration in its curriculum, she said.

Vidant Medical Center is like a small city, Lassiter said. Beyond doctors, nurses and clinical staff, the medical center needs engineers, accountants, biomedical technicians and dozens of other types of professionals whose expertise is needed to keep the medical center team members working as one with a common mission: to improve the health and well-being of eastern North Carolina.

Rebecca Haislip, a registered nurse in the cardiac catheterization lab at VMC, first heard about the Health Sciences Academy in middle school. When she started ninth grade at J.H. Rose High School, she got involved in the academy and shadowed at VMC. Halfway through, she realized that health care truly was her calling.

“I really liked that it prepared me for college,” Haislip, who now supervises one of the Health Sciences Academy interns, said.

Bridget Kenny, a senior at Rose, first got interested in health care during a STEM camp in fifth grade. Health care runs in her family, as her grandfather is a lung specialist, so for her the calling came naturally. Now she works as an intern alongside Haislip in the catheterization lab for the Health Sciences Academy.

While there are many opportunities at the medical center, Vidant offers even more. It includes eight sister hospitals in the east, more than 100 medical practices, home health services, wellness centers and more. Many students find their careers take them to some of these venues, where they can truly make a difference and feel that they are contributing to Vidant’s mission.

Being part of the HSA is more than learning job skills, Lassiter said. It also creates passion for serving your community.

“Health care, at its heart, is people caring for other people,” Lassiter said. “We’re not only developing a talented workforce, but a compassionate one as well. That’s what we’re most proud of.”

If you or your child is interested in the Health Sciences Academy, call 252-830-4257 for more information.

Highlighting Your Health is an educational segment courtesy of Vidant Health that appears twice a month in The Daily Reflector. Vidant is a mission-driven, 1,708-bed health system that annually serves a region of more than 1.4 million people in 29 eastern North Carolina counties. As a major resource for health services and education, Vidant’s mission is to improve the health and well-being of eastern North Carolina.

Need to know

The program has requirements for academics, discipline and community volunteer work.

Students are recruited and accepted in the 8th grade and remain in the program for four years while in high school.

There are two dedicated counselors who work specifically with the students in addition to the school counselors to help prepare students for a health career field.

Health Sciences Academy offers special recognition at graduation.