Strategies for Blending Academics and Technical Skills Among Academic Colleagues

  A Career and Technical Education (CTE) teacher cannot insulate themselves behind a check list of competency skills without Bob Marraccino 2developing a student's ability to understand the conceptual framework of their career pathway.  By this criterion, a rigorous CTE curriculum must be designed to integrate both academic content and workplace skills.  For my CTE Program in Medical Laboratory and Health Assisting, future health professionals first discover how to ask scientific questions, and then learn the methodology to provide a valid answer.  For health professional at any level, science is the academic focus and technology is the faithful servant of a keen and trained scientific mind.

  Approximately one thousand CTE students graduated from my CTE program since its inception, and graduates went on to be, nurses, medical assistants, paramedics, doctors, technicians, researchers, physician assistants and other related health therapists from the same core CTE curricula sequence.  Today, every health professional needs college-level, scientific knowledge to successfully assess and implement medical technology.  Medical errors (associated with inattentiveness and reliance on information technology), hospital infections, (related to careless implementation of procedures),and medication errors account for over two-hundred thousand or more preventable deaths annually in U.S. hospitals. Health professionals, who are trained to understand and follow the scientific method, will stop many of these unintended mortalities.

  From our perspective, the preparation of a nurse, EMT, or doctor does not begin with teaching simple skills, but starts with a discussion in a high-school bacteriology class as part of a CTE medical laboratory sequence.  Treatment for diarrhea, for example, may begin with an understanding of the epidemiology of Clostridium difficile infections and the role of the microbiome.  Since the 1920’s and the Flexner Report, well-trained health professionals were first instructed in the scientific method and academic, scientific content, then with methodology and technology.  The recognitions of this conceptual framework in our NYSED-approved Program leads to the acknowledgment that career competencies, rigorous academics, and integrative skills (which build character) are blended together and necessary.

  In our Medical Laboratory and Health Assisting Sequence, we had exceptional success as graduates entered a myriad of health professions. Initially, consider the core elements of a successful career when you are designing a CTE curriculum.  Our students are provided with experiences gained from a blend of academic scientific content and CTE, core competency skills.   At the high-school level, do not prepare a student to succeed only in the attainment of a perfunctory skill set, because they will not understand the conceptual framework.  In pedagogical context, the Next Generation Science Standards, and to a far lesser extent:  Common Core Standards, can provide the additional bulwark for the design of the curriculum and assessment.  Our Program is a novel approach to CTE, medical laboratory curriculum design, but, I think, our graduates appreciate the risks  that we took!  Students are given two national assessments: health assisting and biotechnology, with the option for an EMT certification (with additional semester of course work after school at eighteen years-of-age).

  Then, we worked with several ELA teachers to create a senior elective which used fiction and nonfiction to explore topics related to infectious disease, genomic sciences, genetic manipulation, and medical ethics.  Examples of the books and authors discussed are:  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, Autism False Prophets (MMR vaccine fraud and politics of misinformation), by Dr. Paul Offit, and a collection of great fiction by Tess Gerritsen, Robin Cook, or Sir Conan Doyle (frustrated by the practice of medicine but not the scientific method:  (see) The Remedy by Thomas Goetz). The ELA curriculum provides the social and historical bulwark to support the scientific discussions in the medical laboratory courses. Moreover, the social studies teacher can be encouraged to discuss in a senior economics elective the micro- and macroeconomics associated with cost of healthcare and funding since it is so much a part of the gross national product of the United States.

  In conclusion, considering that the CTE sequence prepares students for a career pathway, the instructor can naturally draw in and collaborate with the other academic disciplines to prepare the students.

By Robert Marraccino, Ph.D. M.S. Edu, Instructor and Curriculum Developer for Medical Laboratory and Health Assisting Program NYC DOE (2002-2013).

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