Staff photo by Tim Barber/ CHI Memorial Director of Surgical Services Dr. Lee Jackson, lower right, explains the da Vinci robotics to Hixson High CNA student's Vanessa Blue, left, Suhani Patel and Erik Trujillo Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, during the Future Ready Institute partnership in the healthcare instruction area at the school. Hamilton County Schools Superintendant Bryan Johnson listens, top right.

CLARIFICATION: This story was updated at 5:28 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020, to clarify a quote from Martin to show he said "if you have a public education system that is partnered with private businesses..."

Suhani Patel wants to be a nurse practitioner.

When the Hixson High School senior graduates in May, she will already have experience in a variety of health care settings, including having completed a clinical rotation at a longterm care facility.

In fact, Patel is also already a licensed, certified nursing assistant thanks to Hixson High's existing health care education programs.

A new partnership between CHI Memorial Hospital and Hamilton County Schools aims to increase opportunities for students like Patel and her peers who are interested in careers in the medical field.

The launch of the CHI Memorial Institute of Healthcare and Medical Careers on Tuesday makes CHI Memorial the latest local company to partner with one of Hamilton County's more than two dozen industry-themed career academies embedded in traditional high schools across the district.

Principal Lee Sims said he is most excited about the opportunities the partnership will afford Hixson students outside of the classroom.

"[CHI Memorial] can bring to the table things we aren't able to do here," Sims said.

Rhonda Hatfield, chief nursing officer and senior vice president at CHI Memorial, echoed Sims.

"What I would hope as chief nurse is that a student gets the opportunity to see what's different from a book to apply," she said. "When you see patients, when you see health care workers in their real habitat and their everyday life, it's something that hits home, they find joy in it and they see that they are employees that love their work and love their patients and love what they do."

The Future Ready Institute initiative was launched by Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson in March 2018 and brings together private companies in partnership with local schools to provide career pathway opportunities for students. Many of them are already "branded" through partnerships with other local businesses and organizations, including BlueCross BlueShield Tennessee, Erlanger Health System, EPB, See Rock City and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Most companies or organizations that have partnered with a specific institute make a financial commitment anywhere from $100,000 to $250,000 for at least three years and provide opportunities for students such as job shadowing, mentors and internships. Many also work directly with teachers to develop specific curricula, real-life projects and other activities to help students make the connection between their courses and the career field.

In the next decade, an additional 2 million health care jobs will be needed to meet the demands of the aging population, Hatfield told the audience gathered at Hixson on Tuesday, so it is the perfect time to expose students to such options.

Jobs in the health care field are in demand in Chattanooga and across the state. Nurse practitioners and occupational health and safety specialists both ranked in the top 10 "fast growing in-demand jobs in an annual Labor and Education Alignment Program report released in November.

Students like Patel who earn credentials while in high school can obtain a job as soon as they turn 18 and/or graduate high school or choose to work part time and continue schooling. CHI Memorial even offers tuition reimbursement programs for employees who are completing school.

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Staff photo by Tim Barber/ Hixson High CNA student's Perla Leon, left, Leah Gray and Erik Trujillo listen as CHI Memorial's Chief Nursing Officer Rhonda Hatfield announces the Future Ready Institute's partnership with the hospital during a ceremony Tuesday morning, Jan. 21, 2020, in the school's Little Theater.

"I'm really glad to be here," Patel said of her high school experience. "It has really helped me get my foot in the door and get experience."

She added that she was glad she hasn't had to wait until a post-secondary program to figure out if her chosen path was right for her.

"If it wasn't what I really wanted to do, I can switch after high school but you wait about two years in college programs before you typically get those patient or clinical experiences," she added.

County Commissioner Greg Martin, of District 3, represents Hixson. He said public education is at its best when it is working with private industries for common interests.

"Public education is about the public and the public includes everybody, so it only makes sense that you would have private companies and industries that have an interest in the public education system. If you have a public education system that is partnered with private businesses, you're really missing the mission," Martin said. "Health care is one of the number one issues on the minds of people across the country, so it would only make sense that you'd have education that is focused on what is on people's minds."

Hixson has already had several health care tracks for years, including medical assistant, dental assistant, nursing and exercise science. School leaders say they hope to open up these opportunities to even more students through this partnership. 

The Future Ready Institutes in Hamilton County Schools

Brainerd High

— Institute of Aviation

— Institute of Entrepreneurship

— Institute of Law, First Responders and Forensic Science

Central High

— Institute of Advanced Manufacturing and Mechatronics

— Institute of Architecture and Engineering Design

East Hamilton School

— Bryan College Institute of Leadership, Business, and Marketing

— Institute of Innovate Engineering

East Ridge High

— Institute of Engineering and Design

— Institute of Building Construction

— Institute of Leadership

Hixson High

— Institute of Integrative Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

— CHI Memorial Institute of Healthcare and Medical Careers

— Institute of Business Leaders and Owners

The Howard School

— Erlanger Institute of Healthcare and Innovation

— See Rock City Inc. Institute of Hospitality and Tourism Management

— Institute of Robotics and Welding

— Institute of Architecture and Construction

Lookout Valley Middle/High

— Institute of Technology and Multimedia

— Institute of Automotive Maintenance and Manufacturing

Ooltewah High

— Institute of Architecture and Engineering Design

— Institute of Advanced Manufacturing and Mechatronics

— Institutes of International Baccalaureate Studies

Red Bank High

— BlueCross Technology Academy

Sequoyah High

— Institute of Industrial Manufacturing

Signal Mountain Middle/High

— Institutes of International Baccalaureate Studies

Soddy-Daisy High

— Institute of Media and Entrepreneurship

— BlueCross Technology Academy

Tyner Academy

— EPB Institute of Technology and Networking

— UTC Institute of Teaching and Learning

— Institute of Health Services

Contact Meghan Mangrum at or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.