Medicine & Wellness

Aldine ISD, Memorial Hermann to operate Houston high school for training healthcare professionals

The Houston-area school district and healthcare system were selected to receive $31 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies to create HEAL, a new Aldine ISD high school that will open in the fall of 2024.

HEAL High School Rendering
Memorial Hermann Health System
Pictured is an artist’s rendering of HEAL, a healthcare-focused high school to open in the fall of 2024 on the campus of Aldine ISD’s Nimitz High School.

Administrators at Aldine ISD want to help prepare their students for fruitful careers after graduation, which is one of the reasons the Houston-area school district is partnering with Memorial Hermann Health System to create a new high school geared toward training medical professionals.

They also want to help meet growing needs both within the healthcare industry and their own community.

Aldine ISD, which serves about 60,000 students in the north and northeast parts of the city, is in a healthcare desert, according to Adrian Bustillos, the district's chief transformation officer. So by opening Health Education and Learning High School, or HEAL, with the help of Memorial Hermann and a $31 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, Bustillos said Aldine ISD can help address the worker shortage within the medical profession while training people to provide healthcare services to their own friends, neighbors and family members.

"We've just got to do our part to give back and prepare students," Bustillos said. "When I go to the doctor, when you go to the doctor, we want to make sure we have healthcare professionals to serve our needs."

The partnership between Aldine ISD and Memorial Hermann, the largest healthcare system in the Houston area with 17 hospitals and more than 250 other facilities, is one of 10 across the United States that were awarded seed funding by Bloomberg Philanthropies. It is giving out $250 million in total for the creation of new high schools that can train a new generation of medical professionals to enter the field immediately after graduation, with other benefitting cities including Dallas, Boston, New York and Philadelphia, and Bloomberg is billing the initiative as the first of its kind.

There are an estimated 2 million open jobs within the healthcare industry in the U.S., according to Bloomberg, which said an additional 2 million openings are expected by 2031. In Texas alone, there is a nurse shortage of about 30,000, according to Memorial Hermann president and CEO Dr. David Callender, who said that number also is projected to increase in the coming years.

"A program like this one, which broadens the pipeline, helps offset those shortages. That's why we're so excited about it," Callender said. "The program alone is not going to solve the entire problem, but Bloomberg believes that these will become models that other types of schools and other healthcare providers can emulate over the course of time."

Bustillos said HEAL will operate on the campus of Nimitz High School, starting with the 2024-25 school year, with plans to construct a dedicated area that will include a mock hospital. The program will begin with a freshman class of about 190 students, who will apply to take part, and Bustillos said the target is to serve 760 students by the fourth year.

HEAL students will be able to focus on one of five career tracks – nursing, imaging, physical and occupational therapy, clinical administration and pharmacy – which correspond with regional staffing needs. They will be instructed by staff both at Aldine ISD and Memorial Hermann, according to Bustillos and Callender, who both said they plan to operate the healthcare-focused school well beyond the four years covered by the grant money.

Memorial Hermann already has similar partnerships with higher-learning institutions such as Houston Community College and the University of Houston.

"This is a school we plan to have going for the foreseeable future," Bustillos said. "It's not going to end in four years. We're going to keep adding students every year and grow our partnership."

As part of the arrangement, Bustillos said Aldine ISD will relocate the Memorial Hermann clinic it operates at Dunn Elementary to the campus of Nimitz, where he said he wants it to be available for both students and community members in general.

The partnership also includes a pledge by Memorial Hermann to provide job opportunities for HEAL graduates. While they won't be guaranteed positions, according to Callender, Bustillos said the graduates will be given priority for job interviews.

"Ideally, we would be able to employ all of them with Memorial Hermann," Callender said. "I don't know if we're quite ready to make that guarantee yet. But we feel very comfortable that given all the healthcare institutions in Houston, that these students will be able to find a job locally."