Newton-Conover High School students learned facts about the health care system that surprised them Wednesday morning.
Luckily, the students had Lanier Cansler – the state secretary for Health and Human Services and a 1971 Bandys High School graduate – in their health occupations classroom to explain the system.
"I think the area you're looking at for careers is very good," Cansler told the students in Lenora Andersen's health occupations class and members of the Health Occupations Students of America group. "One, health care is needed. Two, North Carolina is growing toward being the seventh most populous state in the nation. Another is that we're aging rapidly."
Cansler stopped by the classroom during a visit to his native Catawba County. He broke down health care functions in the state's Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), to which Gov. Beverly Perdue appointed him secretary in 2009. He told students the department handles hiring doctors and dentists; manages birth certificates and other records; works on air and water quality issues; and helps investigate crimes through the state medical examiner's office.
"I didn't know there were so many branches under the health and human services (department)," said Kelene Clarke, a senior from Conover.
"Maybe as I talk about all the things we do in the department, that'll help you see how everything fits together," Cansler told the students. "As you look at different areas of health care, all of these areas are things you could possibly fit into. We're always looking for good people in health care."
Cansler told students that DHHS employs 17,000 people and operates on a $17 billion budget, of which Medicaid makes up 65 percent.
Jetel Bratcher, of Newton, and Danesha Baker, of Claremont, both seniors, were surprised by the number of Americans who receive support from Medicaid.
Before his presentation, Cansler talked individually with some of the students. Some wanted to be pediatricians and nurses.
Abbie Van Horn, a senior from Conover, wants to be a nurse anesthetist who helps people relax and sleep for surgery. She decided on the career after shadowing a neighbor who's an anesthesiologist.
Van Horn said she learned that changes through President Barack Obama's health care reform plans may affect how health care professionals are reimbursed for Medicaid and Medicare programs, thus affecting how much they earn.
"It's probably going to lessen the chances of getting good pay," Van Horn said. "It showed me the money's not going to exactly be what I thought. But it's still something I'd like to do, with the human interaction."
Andersen said she invited Cansler to speak in the class because she tries to expose the students to as many health education opportunities as she can while they're still in high school.
The education will be valuable to students who decide to enter health care careers, Cansler said.
"Everything we do will all come back to how we can keep the population healthy," Cansler said. "That'll be part of the challenge you'll face in the health care field."