PAC launches Allied Health Program

By Yesica Peña
Pulse Staff Reporter

Allied Health Care students walking from a classroom to a research lab. Photo by Yesica Peña.

In response to a high demand for professionals in the health care industry, Palo Alto College launched its first Allied Health Program this fall with a cohort of 22 students. Palo Alto is offering a two-year Associate of Applied Science degree for an entry-level position.

“To me, it was like falling in the right place at the right time,” said Sara Benitez, a first-year student in the program who previously worked as a medical coder and biller. “I want to make a difference. I feel I can do a better job, but I just need the degree to get my feet in there.”

Health care administrators are interdisciplinary leaders who combine health policy, business and science. They are responsible for the overall management of health care facilities, such as hospitals, rehabilitation centers, mental health centers, nursing homes and other health care agencies.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of health care occupations is projected to grow 18 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations, adding about 2.4 million new jobs. A growing aging population has led to a demand in health care services.

Dr. Mary-Ellen Jacobs, the director of Workforce Programs at Palo Alto College, said,

“It’s mostly women who were interested in the program, and even in our welcome ceremony, women brought their children. These are many times single parents.”

The program is designed to fit the needs of its students with hybrid, online and night classes. The program prepares students for an entry-level position. A tangible career awaits at the end, said Jacobs.

Melissa Torres, a first-year student in the program who currently works in a health care setting said, “I’ve always said I wanted to start as a director. My employer is 100 percent behind me. They’re looking to advance me once I get my degree.”

Jacob said workforce programs truly give back to the community.

“Students want to stay in the community; they want to serve the community,” she said.

All the students are locals and most of them are from the South Side.

Jacobs said the program is intriguing because it is a combination of two career fields. The context is health care, with anatomy, physiology and medical terminology courses. Students learn the language and understand the field. Business is the other part. Students take management and administrative courses.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, health care is one of the fastest-growing career fields for individuals with associate’s degrees. Employment is expected to increase 28.8 percent by 2024 in the Bexar County region, with an average entry-level hourly wage of $30.72.

You might be surprised to find the U.S ranked 37th in the world for health care, according to the World Health Organization. We have the most expensive health care systems, according to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, OECD. It’s complicated, but research has found repeatedly that the U.S scores significantly low on measures of affordability, access and equality between the rich and the poor.

Benitez was recently let go from her job.

“I was there 13 years and had 10 different managers. The management was just not great there,” she said.

The organization’s entire business office was let go with same-day notice.

“I just want to make a difference. With this AAS degree, it’s just opening more doors for me,” said Benitez, who hopes to go back with her degree and make a difference.

The program plans to bring in cohorts of 25 students each semester. The goal is to have 100 students go through the program together and finish together.

“My goal is to complete and transfer to Texas A&M, and I’m hoping to keep the momentum because I do want to continue actually, even get a master’s,” said Torres. “There’s no room for failure. You just have to make your contribution and do your part if you want to finish. Everyone’s behind you. It’s a good support system.”

Jacobs said, “Opportunities are endless because there’s so many varieties of health care…with this two-year degree, it starts them off that trajectory.”

The goal of the program is to lay the groundwork and build confidence, giving students the opportunity to stand out and move forward.

For more information on the Allied Health Program, contact Dolores Zapata-Caballero, the director of Academic Programs at Palo Alto at (210) 486-3935 or, in Sabine Hall, Room 101.