Sweeping cultural, demographic and economic trends are converging to make health sciences careers a bright spot in a dark economy. From home care providers and medical assistants to medical technologists and health information specialists, many health occupations offer today’s youth a range of attractive career paths. Seeking ways to get young students primed for these health care workforce opportunities, nearly 150 Massachusetts high school and college educators and workforce development professionals gathered at UMass Medical School for the fourth annual Health Care Pathways conference on Nov. 18. “There are limited venues that bring together this mix of professionals who share a common bond of educating and supporting students exploring and pursuing health careers,” noted conference organizer Sharon Grundel, MEd, manager of workforce development for the Massachusetts Area Health Education Center (MassAHEC) Network, which co-hosts Health Care Pathways with UMMS. Funded by the federal government and UMMS, MassAHEC connects students to careers, professionals to communities and communities to better health by inspiring and educating a diverse range of health professionals. Just one of numerous MassAHEC programs, Health Care Pathways was created in response to inquiries from Massachusetts high school health science teachers who were seeking resources to help link educational objectives with career exploration in the health professions. “MassAHEC saw this as an opportunity to expand its mission of supporting student health careers exploration, especially in primary care, and increase its ability to contribute to the workforce pipeline,” said MassAHEC Director Linda Cragin, MS, who told conference attendees that her own entry into health care as a home health aide paid her way through college and graduate school. With its theme “Preparing Students for Hot Jobs in a Cool Economy—Skills that Make the Difference,” the half-day program set the stage with facts and figures, notably educational requirements, projected job openings and salary ranges for specific careers, and then followed through with concrete educational tools. An entire workshop focused on service learning, which can help students apply academic learning to real human needs through community-based projects. One such project, undertaken by students of the Allied Health program at Worcester Technical High School, is Guns for Art, which will ultimately transform dangerous guns recovered from the community by Worcester’s Goods for Guns exchange program into student-created works of art. A presentation from Worcester Technical High School senior and Guns for Art participant Michellina Wuddah-Martey was a great example of the positive effect service learning has on student motivation and academic engagement. “Our goal is to make a difference by educating the community about gun safety,” Wuddah-Martey said. A native of Ghana who immigrated to Worcester at age 11, she is now ready to enter the medical technology program at UMass Dartmouth. Among her many achievements, she is the first president of Worcester Tech’s Massachusetts Health Occupations Students of America (MassAHEC HOSA) chapter, another initiative of MassAHEC. Her closing statement, “I love health care because it’s not just about fixing people, it’s about helping people,” received a standing ovation. To learn more about MassAHEC and Health Care Pathways, visit http://www.umassmed.edu/ahec/index.aspx. To learn more about MassAHEC HOSA , visit http://www.hosa.org/state/ma.html.