Exploring Careers in School-Based Health Centers
By Audrey Gabriel, SBHA Youth Advisory Council Member
The concept of picking out your career path at the ripe old age of 17 is incredibly daunting, I know it was for me. Maybe you are the first in your family to go to college, maybe you haven’t really been exposed to different career paths, or maybe…you’re just feeling stuck. Although you can always change your major and career trajectory, one thing that was a huge help to me was being able to learn about the day-to-day lives of different career paths.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we’ve seen the importance of health care workers– all collaborating to promote the health and wellbeing of their patients and their communities. If this is a field that has piqued your interest, your first thought is probably the hospital or a doctor’s office.
However, there are so many more paths to working in health care than only hospitals and doctor’s offices. In school-based health centers (SBHCs), so many different health care professionals come together to provide students with the care and services they need and deserve. These health care providers work with students daily in a variety of ways!
Here’s a quick guide to some of the different career paths to explore in school-based health:
Behavioral Health Provider
Behavioral health workers include roles like counselors and therapists. They work individually with students to address their mental health, giving students someone to talk to and helping them build skills to improve their well-being. This can look like helping a student with their emotional and cognitive skills, learning more coping strategies, helping them navigate the stress of being a student, and providing emotional support to students. They can also work with groups of students to hold different workshops that provide wellness skills to students– like meditation and mindfulness sessions.
Primary Care Provider
A primary care provider at an SBHC includes roles like a pediatrician, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant. They work individually with students to address their overall health and wellbeing. Their role is to provide primary care to students. This can look like routine physicals and providing clearance for activities like sports or jobs, prescribing different medications, and providing health education. They work closely with other SBHC staff to ensure they’re giving the proper treatment and care to a student.
The nursing staff at SBHCs can include registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, medical assistants, and nursing assistants. Similar to primary care providers, their role is to provide primary care to students. In these roles, nursing staff assess patients, conduct intake, prepare patients for their visit with the provider, administer medications and vaccines ordered by the provider, provide patient education, coordinate care, and more. They work closely with primary care providers to ensure they’re giving the proper treatment and care to a student.
Health administrators include roles that do the “behind the scenes” work of making sure each student gets the care that they need. This can include positions like office manager, insurance coordinator, SBHC program coordinator, and more. They work to make sure each student has filled out the correct forms and has an updated file on hand with their health and insurance information so that each student has a history of their care and can continue to be seen by different providers in an SBHC. Program coordinators may be based in one health center but also work to oversee various SBHC programs at multiple sites.
Roles that center on policy and advocacy of SBHCs and adolescent health include positions like community organizers, community educators, and more. This can include a variety of different tasks. Community organizers may support and advocate for SBHCs and adolescent health initiatives to local, state, and federal legislators, pushing for more funding and resources for SBHCs by collaborating with sponsoring agencies on different policies and initiatives. Community educators may work with the school where the SBHC is located to inform students about their health center and the services that they provide. These roles engage with parents and families to inform them of the services that SBHCs can provide to their students. These positions may also work with adolescent groups to form youth advisory councils (like ours!) that work to promote adolescent-led initiatives that focus on health issues that young people experience.
Hopefully, this gives you a sense of a few different career opportunities that are available to you in the scope of SBHCs. There’s even more to explore than what I’ve shared here, including clerical staff, health educators, community health workers, nutrition services, dental, and vision. When I was in high school, my SBHC was filled with incredibly wonderful staff and I vividly recall how much they cared for every student that walked through their doors. Now, as a rising senior in college, as I am applying to different medical schools, I remember the experiences that I have with my SBHC and plan to keep the door wide open to any career in school-based health.