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DENVER (KDVR) — Most industries feel the pinch of labor shortages and health care is no exception. 

In the coming years, Colorado could be strapped for registered nurses, mental health professionals and more.  

A recent report done by Mercer predicted that Colorado will be short 54,000 health care workers by 2026. 

To combat the soaring labor shortage, DaVita teamed up with other major health care employers in the state and a few local community colleges to create a new program called the Colorado Health Careers Collaborative Academy. 

The goal is to include underserved students and those in rural areas ages 16-24 interested in pursuing a career in health care. During a six-week session, participants are given a taste of four of the fastest-growing roles in healthcare. 

“The patient care technician role or the PCT role was vital because you’re allowed to kind of step into healthcare right without needing prior experience. Then began to expand your knowledge and really grow and develop through the opportunities that we provide internally to our teammates,” the director of nursing services at DaVita, Kristin Sayles said.

In order to make sure the skills students learn can give them a leg up on pursuing future health care careers, part of the curriculum was developed by a DaVita employee who started as a patient care technician herself.    

“I worked as a PCT and fell absolutely in love with health care and then dialysis specifically. So went back to become a nurse. I worked as a nurse and then transitioned into a facility administrator role to where I was just kind of like managing my own facility and then now I am on the national team as a director of nursing services,” Sayles said. “So really I think that again, this partnership is great because it opens that door, right? And then once these individuals are kind of in DaVita, there are so many different career opportunities that are available for them to be able to expand upon.”

The hope is that it will contribute to the education-to-employment pipeline in a way that meaningfully advances economic mobility in Colorado and earning potential through career development and educational opportunities

“The hands-on [lessons] actually give you full-on experience and the equipment actually reacts almost the same as a human body but the differences they obviously have no feeling and that’s okay,” Briana Contreras, a student at the academy said. 

“At the same time that we’re creating these pathways for students, we’re also hoping to help close those workforce gaps that our health care workforce is experiencing right now. And also, we’re hoping to, in the same turn, diversify the workforce as well,” Nafeesa Lynn, a project coordinator for Colorado Health Careers Collaborative Academy at Community College of Denver said.

“It gave me a step ahead of what I was getting myself into and I really enjoyed that,” Contreras said.  

“It’s wonderful. It’s priceless. You know, seeing the joy on students’ faces and the discovery as they’re exploring these different programs and seeing these worlds open up to them and knowing that they can do it and they have, you know, the personal skills, the soft skills, and they just need to, you know, reach in and hone them and realize that you know, they’re capable of so much,” Lynn said.

This program is both a virtual and hands-on lab experience and is sponsored by different health care employers like DaVita.