The University of Alaska Anchorage is trying a new approach to increase interest in health care — rolling out a semester-long class that introduces students to a wide range of certifications and degrees.

The Alaska Department of Labor has identified health care as the state's fastest growing industry. With an aging population, Alaska will have more than 10,000 new jobs in the field to fill by 2026. The new course was set up to help meet that demand.

"A lot of students come in thinking health care is being a nurse or a doctor. They don't really realize the broad spectrum of jobs there are in the health care industry," Jeff Jessee, dean of UAA's College of Health, said. "So, we are making sure students are aware of how many options they really have in this field."

The umbrella-style introductory class, titled Breaking Trail on Your Health and Human Services Career, is slated to start next fall. Faculty are currently working on final preparations and engagement strategies for the course. 

For the first time this year, UAA was able to offer students a chance to work in a simulated operating room, providing an opportunity to try their hand in roles associated with a wide array of procedures. 

The college is also opening up simulated technology lab to high school students. 

"We bring students from all over rural Alaska into anchorage and have them do some simulations not only to become familiar with what, say nursing, involves, but to gain the confidence that this is something they can do," Jessee said, adding that the university's board of regents has committed to doubling the number of graduates from the college of health by 2025.  

"As more senior care programs and facilities come online, the need for Certified Nursing Assistants, or CNA's, is a very high growth area," Jessee said. "So, we're stepping up programs to provide training for more of those positions."

Jessee said other strategies include offering even more broad-strokes courses that qualify students for a variety of degrees, so students who change their mind about a career path can switch between programs more easily. 

"So that you're always moving forward, and even if you change your mind, you don't have to go back and take courses again to take a slightly different direction," Jessee said. 

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