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Preparing Urban Teens for Careers in Health Care

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Aetna Foundation awards $300,000 to National Academy Foundation to develop new high school curriculum on health care field, noting NAF's success with at-risk students.

HARTFORD, Conn., July 29, 2011 -- As part of its efforts to diversify the next generation of doctors and other health care professionals, the Aetna Foundation has made a $300,000 grant to the National Academy Foundation (NAF), a leader in urban education reform, to help create a rigorous new high school curriculum to prepare students from high-needs, urban schools for careers in health care.


“Studies have shown that health care professionals from low-income, minority populations are more likely than those from affluent backgrounds to practice medicine among medically underserved and safety net population groups,” said Anne C. Beal, M.D., M.P.H., president of the Aetna Foundation. “If we are to be successful in eliminating racial and ethnic disparities that persist in health and health care, we need to widen and diversify the pipeline of students training for careers in medicine and health care.

“We are pleased to support the National Academy Foundation in the development of its new career academy theme. The organization has an impressive track record in improving student academic achievement and preparing at-risk high school students for professional-level jobs in growing industries,” said Beal.

The new courses will be incorporated into NAF’s latest career academy theme, the Academy of Health Sciences, which is designed to address the achievement gap in science, technology, engineering and mathematics among low-income, minority students while encouraging students to pursue health-related professions. The Academy of Health Science is expected to be implemented across the country starting in 2015 in about 65 schools that eventually will serve up to 26,000 students.

“With the graying of the American population, health-related occupations are expected to grow 36 percent through 2016, faster than all other occupations combined,” said JD Hoye, NAF’s president. “Without improved and more rigorous instruction in math and science, our educational system will fail to meet our economy’s workforce demands. Our goal is to prepare students, particularly those from low-income and minority populations, for careers that will require an increasingly sophisticated understanding of math, science and technology. The support from the Aetna Foundation will help us direct thousands of students to a brighter future in health care.”

The Aetna Foundation funding will be used to write two courses for ninth graders – Health Careers Exploration and Global Health – that will serve as foundational building blocks for the Academy of Health Sciences’ demanding four-year curriculum. In Health Careers Exploration, students will learn about biotechnology, informatics, therapeutics, health technology and management, and diagnostics. In Global Health, students will be introduced to a range of health issues, including demographic and economic influences on health care, health care systems in other countries, and emerging research in preventative medicine and treatment. The two courses will be developed with leading curriculum experts and health care professionals.

The Academy of Health Sciences is the fifth career-themed academy to be developed by NAF since the organization’s founding in 1982. Previously launched academies focus on finance, hospitality and tourism, information technology and engineering. Designed to reflect high academic and industry standards, each academy offers a four-year sequenced curriculum that provides a broad understanding of the field and links to strong core academics. The academies stress project-based course work in small learning communities in “schools-within-a-school” or stand-alone schools and offer mentoring by business professionals, job shadowing and paid internships.

Currently, NAF supports 500 academies serving 50,000 students, about 70 percent of whom are African American, Latino, or representatives of other minority populations. Its high school graduation rate is 90 percent, with more than 80 percent of graduates going on to college. Nationally, only about half of all African-American, Latino and Native-American high school students earn a high school diploma within four years.

The Aetna Foundation grant to NAF brings the foundation’s 2011 grant total to $850,000 for initiatives that provide educational opportunities in health care to underrepresented minorities. Awards made earlier this year are:

  • $197,000 to support the AcademyHealth/Aetna Foundation Minority Scholars Program, which provides professional development to health care services researchers, doctoral candidates and post-doctoral fellows;
  • $100,000 to the National Medical Fellowships to establish the Aetna Foundation/NMF Healthcare Leadership Program, which provides scholarships to second- and third-year medical students from underrepresented minority groups with a commitment to serve medically underserved communities;
  • $204,000 to the Four Directions Summer Research Program, which provides Native-American undergraduates with mentored summer research opportunities in science and medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School; and
  • $50,000 to Southern Methodist University to help fund an intensive six-week scientific curriculum during the summer of 2011 for 120 academically gifted seventh and eighth graders from minority populations. The course is the junior-high component of the Distance Learning Center’s Physician Scientist Training Program.

Additionally, the Aetna Foundation invested $2 million several years ago to establish the Aetna Health Professions Partnership Initiative at the University of Connecticut Health Center, which provides enrichment programs for underserved Hartford, Conn.-area middle and high school students to encourage them to pursue careers in health and science.

Promoting racial and ethnic equity in health and health care is one of the Aetna Foundation’s three program areas, along with fighting obesity and promoting integrated and well-coordinated health care.

About the Aetna Foundation

The Aetna Foundation, Inc. is the independent charitable and philanthropic arm of Aetna Inc. Since 1980, Aetna and the Aetna Foundation have contributed $394 million in grants and sponsorships, including $15.6 million in 2010. As a national health foundation, we promote wellness, health, and access to high-quality health care for everyone. This work is enhanced by the time and commitment of Aetna employees, who have volunteered more than 2.3 million hours since 2003. Our current giving is focused on addressing the rising rate of adult and childhood obesity in the U.S.; promoting racial and ethnic equity in health and health care; and advancing integrated health care. For more information, visit www.AetnaFoundation.org.

About National Academy Foundation

The National Academy Foundation (NAF) is an acclaimed network of career-themed academies that open doors for underserved high school students to viable careers. For nearly 30 years, NAF has refined a proven model that provides young people access to industry-specific curricula, work-based learning experiences, and relationships with business professionals. NAF academies focus on one of four career themes: finance, hospitality & tourism, information technology, and engineering. Employees of more than 2,500 companies volunteer in classrooms, act as mentors, engage NAF students in paid internships, and serve on local Advisory Boards. During the 2009-10 school years, 500 NAF academies served more than 50,000 students across 41 states, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands. NAF’s national graduation rate of 90% testifies to the effectiveness this effort.


Susan Millerick, 860-273-0536

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