Getting a HealthStart

By Teresa Guinon

MiraCosta College’s HealthStart program engages students with relevant curriculum from the start.

The mission of community colleges has historically been characterized by the promise of access and success for a broad range of students to fulfill their academic and career goals. Because this pledge continues to drive institutional outcomes and strategic planning, many community colleges are exploring and adopting research-based, high-impact practices. MiraCosta College in Oceanside, Calif., is among those who are implementing innovative programs.

MiraCosta College’s latest success is HealthStart, a program that integrates many high-impact practices into a supportive experience for underrepresented students desiring a career in health care. The core of HealthStart is a sequence of required English courses that support students’ learning from developmental to transfer-level composition. The curriculum is contextualized around the complex issues, experiences and decision-making of health care providers, and was developed through collaboration with the Nursing Department to ensure consistency with the rigors of allied health reading, writing and critical thinking.

Research shows and common sense tells us that students are more likely to engage in courses that provide a relevant connection to their passions and an investment in their futures. In HealthStart, students research and write about relevant topics, such as the problems and solutions of widespread medical error; the inclusion of the patient’s family, spirituality and culture as critical to patient care; and the inequalities of access to health care.

“The reading is pretty challenging. It’s pretty dense, and there are a lot of terms that you might not be familiar with, but it’s all in a subject matter that you’re interested in, so you’re motivated to push ahead,” said Karina Barajas, a student in HealthStart.

A key to success is that HealthStart is built upon a foundation of collaboration between the nursing, letters, counseling, careers and CTE departments. Through this team effort, HealthStart is empowered to embed other vital connections to increase access and success. For example, HealthStart connects students to a dedicated college counselor to ensure a more seamless matriculation process and the development of a comprehensive education plan, and HealthStart connects students to other student services, such as supplemental instruction with the Writing Center, Library Services, Scholarship Services, the Allied Health Club and Health Services.

Now entering its second year, HealthStart was one of just two recipients—the other being Reedley College in Central California—of the 2016-17 Exemplary Program Award from the California Community Colleges Board of Governors for developing strategies that use contextualized teaching and learning strategies, focusing on interdisciplinary collaboration, and creating clear steps in developing a pathway for students reach their educational goals.

Thanks to HealthStart, equity gaps are closing as we strategically reach out to area high schools in Oceanside. Data show that 43.2 percent of students in traditional English 100 last year were Latino, as opposed to the 60 percent in HealthStart 100, and traditional English 100 had a success rate of 65.5 percent, compared to the success rate of 88 percent in HealthStart 100. This illustrates that students will persist and succeed in challenging courses when their personal, academic, and career needs are addressed in relevant, coherent programs.

At MiraCosta College, innovation is transforming lives. I feel so honored to teach and support the success of amazing allied health students who are just starting out, full of hope and enthusiasm for their futures. I am in awe of their motivation and dedication, and I love this HealthStart experience as much as the students.

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Teresa Guinon

Teresa Guinon is an English instructor and lead of the HealthStart program at MiraCosta College in Oceanside