Davenport West High School is helping lead the way in providing future health care workers to fight national crises like the coronavirus pandemic.

Data from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) shows that the number of people in the U.S. entering medical school in 2020 reached a two-decade high, with a total of 22,239 enrolled students. The AAMC is a not-for-profit association that leads and serves the academic medicine community.

Davenport West has seen a jump in students taking biomedical science from 18 the first year, to 130 two years later.

At West High School – 3505 W. Locust St., in Davenport – the student Falcons are flying high to meet the massive medical challenge presented by the pandemic.

The school’s Career and Technical Academy includes health care as one of its disciplines. Other career options they offer include engineering, finance/accounting, advanced manufacturing, and computer science.

Brandon Yoder is the teacher for biomedical sciences at West High School. Through the Health Care pathway, he instructs two Project Lead The Way (PLTW) courses – Principles of Biomedical Science and Medical Interventions. PLTW is a national nonprofit organization that develops learning experiences for use by elementary, middle, and high schools.

PLTW is more than just another high school engineering program, according to the West High website.

It is about applying engineering, science, math, and technology to solve complex, open-ended problems in a real-world context and learning how to make the world a better place through innovation.

Brandon Yoder is a teacher for biomedical sciences at West High School.

Students take courses that highlight different areas of engineering, including architecture, robotics, and design, culminating with an integrated design class that utilizes components of all previous courses.

Yoder works with students interested in health care careers, and he says that these students have not expressed any reluctance to join the fight against the Covid pandemic – which has infected 25 million people in the U.S., and claimed more than 419,000 American lives.

“They are all inspired to be part of the field of medicine,” Yoder said recently. “One student once said to me, ‘I want to do this because it makes me feel essential.’”

Interest in Yoder’s Principles of Biomedical Science has increased in the four years that West High’s Career and Technical Academy has been active, he observed. “Eighteen kids took the class in its first year,” he said. “In the second year, 75 took the class, and in the third year, 130 took it. It’s good to see more and more kids are developing an interest in medical careers.”

For most students, he said, the coronavirus hasn’t changed their career plans. “In some cases, the pandemic has solidified their plans. They say, ‘This is what I want to do’,” Yoder said.

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Yoder has degrees in psychology and science education and has been an instructor with West High School for nine years. He used to work as a certified nursing assistant, and before that, as program director at Camp Shalom in Maquoketa.

He believes that the pandemic was built a lot of resiliency in students. “Kids have had to go through a big switch, going from classroom settings to digital learning,” he said. “It’s good to see that they’re rising to the challenge.”

Yoder noted that most of his students are freshmen and sophomores. “The pandemic may be over by the time they start their careers,” he said, “but certainly they are learning how to deal with whatever health issues the future might bring.”

The national Project Lead the Way program offers STEM classes for K-12 students to solve complex, real-world problems.

He added that the medical community’s fight against the pandemic gives many of the students a sense of pride. “When they drive past a hospital and see a sign that says ‘Heroes Work Here,’ it inspires them,” he said.

West High Principal Cory Williams said, “I am really proud of Mr. Yoder and the classes we offer here at West. Our students are ready to lead when they graduate and move on to their next endeavor, whatever that may be. This career pathway gives them a solid foundation for their future.”

The total number of students in the U.S. applying to medical school for the upcoming 2021 academic year shows substantial growth, up by approximately 18% from the same time last year, according to the AAMC.

“The increased interest in medicine comes at a crucial moment. Even before Covid-19, the United States was facing a significant projected shortage of physicians,” David J. Skorton, MD, AAMC president and CEO, said last month. “The pandemic is spotlighting the extraordinary services that physicians provide on the front lines. It’s heartening to see that more students want to pursue a career in medicine in order to serve their communities and make a difference.”

The new AAMC strategic plan includes an action plan to significantly increase the number of diverse medical school applicants and first-year students in the coming years.

In 2020, women made up 53.4% of applicants, 53.6% of those accepted and 51.5% of total enrollment. This is the second year in a row that women made up the majority of all three groups, and the proportion of women in all three categories has increased annually in recent years. Among first-year students in 2020, the number of women increased and the number of men declined, continuing a five-year trend.

And the number of Black or African-American first-year med students increased by 10.5%, to 2,117 nationwide. Black or African-American students made up 9.5% of first-year students in 2020, up from 8.8% last year.

To learn more about Davenport West and its Career and Technical Academy, visit

http://www.davenportschools.org/west/west-high-career-and-technical-academy/.

To learn more about the Davenport Community School District, visit http://www.davenportschools.org/.

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Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.