What if you walked into your high school class to watch a live-stream of an open-heart surgery?
Students at DeBakey High School for Health Professions are receiving incredible opportunities like that each week. The competitive magnet school, designed for students interested in healthcare careers, is located not just in the middle of Houston, but also in the middle of the Texas Medical Center, the largest medical complex in the world. There, students can soak up what it can feel like to work in healthcare and see the connection between what they’re learning in class and where it can lead them in real life.
Starting off as a vocational school in the ‘70s, DeBakey has evolved into a college preparatory program with a rigorous health science core. In 2019, U.S. News & World Report ranked DeBakey the 3rd best public high school in Texas, and the 19th best public high school in the nation.
It comes as no surprise, then, that DeBakey draws students from all over the city to its unique program. In fact, demand for DeBakey’s program is so high that, while around 2,000 students may apply by lottery each year, the school usually only has about 300 slots open, said Principal Agnes Perry.
“Many of our students who come here think of wanting to be a pediatrician or veterinarian because as a child that’s what they related to,” explained Perry. “When they come here, it is clarified. Some of them change their mind. Some of are really secured in their want to be a doctor.”
What else do students at DeBakey get to experience?
“Because they take four years of health science, students are given the opportunities in their junior and senior year to observe, shadow, even assist some of the physicians or the labs in the medical field,” described Perry. “So that gives them a hands-on, first-hand experience on what the possibilities are for a career choice.”
Since the medical center is so close, physicians, technicians, and researchers also present to the students each year at a scientific symposium. So, if a ninth or tenth grader at DeBakey has an interest in neuroscience, for example, they can connect and dialogue with a symposium presenter from that field.
“They have the opportunity to have a close-up conversation with this person speaking about their profession, their experiences, and how they got to that point in their lives,” explained Assistant Principal Raul Saldivar. “That’s pretty neat, especially for a freshman. It broadens a lot of ideas for kids of what they want to get out of DeBakey and where they want to go do afterwards.”
For students passionate about healthcare, DeBakey is an incredible opportunity to get a real taste of what the field looks like. And being passionate is important for DeBakey students, because the curriculum is well-suited to those looking for challenge.
“To graduate with our distinguished diploma, our students complete more credits than most high school students are required to take in the state of Texas, so that makes us pretty unique,” said Perry. “Because of our rigor with courses and our focus on health science, students have done exceptionally well. They graduate and are sought out by many universities because our students are so well-prepared for the next level.”
Yet another unique feature of the school is that, over its forty-seven year history, it’s only had four principals. DeBakey’s consistency in leadership has made it easy to maintain its high ideals and culture of excellence, said Perry.
Now you might think teachers have it easy at a school known for high-performance and where there are so many exciting opportunities for students. But not quite.
People assume that because we have great students it’s easy [for teachers], but it’s actually even harder because our students challenge our teachers in a good way. – Agnes Perry
While both teachers and students both have to work hard at the magnet school, the result is well worth it. Having the choice to dive into the medical profession as early as high school is opening eyes, minds, and hearts of Houston students, helping them find a life-path they love.
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