Education Matters: Growing Health Leaders Conference


It is one of the basic skills of a health care worker knowing CPR; these students – all from high schools in Fresno County – are getting hands on instruction at this day long conference.

They called this the growing health leaders conference – an effort to get more young people into health careers.

“We also know that there is a need for health professionals beyond just a doctor and a nurse, and so the idea is to expose high school students to a variety of health careers so that they can see that there is more than just maybe those two main things that we think about,” said Mary Renner of the Central Valley Health Network.

The organization is made up of community health centers in the Central Valley. They partnered with the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools in an effort to get more students on the path to a health career.

“We really focus on those students who have already expressed that interest through either ROP or CTE to come to the conference and we are usually at capacity every year,” Renner said.

The conference was held at Fresno State and this year there was a major push to get more students interested in mental health careers.

“It is critically important as we move forward that we grow more clinicians and we grow more workers in the behavioral health field; we recognize if we don’t reach kids at while their in high school while they are in junior high and get them interested in the field we might lose them as they enter their educational pathway,” said Dawan Utecht, the director of behavioral health for Fresno County.

Jacob Rodriguez a senior at Dinuba High thought it was great that students were exposed to so many different health career areas.

“I just like how real it is; it shows you the different aspects that people usually don’t talk about such as the behavior, phycology, the patient interaction,” Rodriguez said. “People don’t usually get into that kind of stuff, and I think it’s cool and eye opening how they actually talk about it.”

Health professionals in the Central Valley have long been aware that meeting the growing demand for health care workers here depends a lot on growing your own. It appears the message is getting through to the Valley’s young people.

Bianca Villanueva, a student at Dinuba High School, said, “It makes me feel like I have a responsibility to go off and to learn and to come back and bring that knowledge back into the Valley. I want to come back to the Valley – yes.”

More than 400 young people attended the conference, and many are already enrolled in health pathways at their high schools. There is a growing effort to extend those classes down to junior high.

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