The Houston Independent School District (HISD) and Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) have enjoyed a long, successful partnership in operating the Michael E. DeBakey High School for Health Professions (DHSHP). The significance of this collaboration for both partners was symbolized publicly by the addition of Dr. DeBakey’s name to the school’s walls in 1996. From its humble beginnings-but with grand aspirations-in one classroom at BCM in 1972, DHSHP has set a standard for innovation and excellence. As the first and oldest free standing magnet health professions high school in the US, DHSHP now is recognized as one of the top high schools in the nation.
DHSHP was initially established to address Houston’s critical need for health care providers by enhancing opportunities for HISD students-particularly those from groups underrepresented in health fields-to access careers in the health professions. The pioneering school’s phenomenal success represents what can be accomplished when the public and private sectors come together to address pressing community problems.
The Texas Medical Center (TMC) and its member institutions have been integral parts of the school’s success. Originally focusing on vocational and technical careers, DHSHP was the first school in the US designed specifically to prepare students to pursue careers in medicine and health care. Its predominately minority student enrollment grew quickly, and in 1980, the school moved to a new building at its current location.
In 1984, the US Department of Education named DHSHP on of the 10 best vocational schools in the nation. This recognition was celebrated, but both HISD and BCM shared a growing concern for, and awareness of, new needs of the school and its students. The requirements for careers in the health professions at all levels had become more demanding and it was apparent that Houston Students would need greater levels of academic preparation if they were to access such careers.
Together, HISD, BCM and TCM institutions worked to create and implement a new curriculum that would prepare the school’s graduates to enter and succeed at leading four-year colleges and universities. The new vision for the school included heightened entrance requirements, a four-year curricular sequence, including five units each of science and math, and a three-year foreign language requirement. As often is the case, change proved challenging, but in this instance, it turned out to be highly rewarding. Now, the majority of DHSHP graduates continue on to college (95% overall; 100% in 2007). Most graduates indicate that they plan to pursue careers in the health sciences.
The new DHSHP curriculum went into effect at the start of the 1989-90 school year. At the same time Dr. Charlesetta Deason became the school’s principal. The many benefits of these changes are clear: higher test scores, greater numbers of graduates assessing postsecondary education and professional schools, and increased school recognition. In 1996, an eight year BS/MD scholarship program, the Houston Premedical Academy (HPA), was established as a partnership among HISD, the University of Houston, and BCM. Each year, 10 DHSHP students are selected for the program. Since the HPA began in 1996, 116 students have entered the program, and 49 of 55 program graduates (89%) have matriculated into medical school, 30 at BCM. To date, 16 HPA graduates have earned their MD Degrees. There are currently 37 students enrolled at UH and 30 at BCM.
Given its history of leadership and innovation, it is no surprise the award-winning DHSHP has become a model for other schools across Texas, US, and internationally, and has earned a reputation for excellence and equity in education.