An Unexpected Career in the Healthfield


Retired paramedic, Frank McMahan teaching senior GHA students how to turn on and off an O2 regulator and how to work a resuscitator at a Saturday Skills Lab.

by Johnny Ha

Inspired by how incredible and connected the study of sciences and art is, Galileo Health Academy (GHA) teacher, Mr. Richard McDowell decided to create the Health Academy in 2001 to educate students about science as well as exploring healthcare careers through hands-on experiences and cross-curricular assignments.

According to Mr. McDowell, the GHA has multiple community partners, which often improves academic performance and behaviors of the students at school because they’re placed in an engaging learning environment. By being part of the academy, Mr. McDowell hopes that his students will be better able to empathize and sympathize with people and their struggles.

Before becoming a teacher and creating the Health Academy, Mr. McDowell worked in healthcare, however, his first passion was the arts. He didn’t know he was into science until after he received his undergraduate degree in art; he had a curiosity about science, so he took science classes that he found very interesting and found that science and art were inseparable.

After taking science classes, Mr. McDowell did a ride-along on an ambulance with paramedics and discovered that he wanted to work on an ambulance. He received his EMT certificate after taking the required coursework and worked as an EMT for 1 year. He then worked in a cardiovascular ward in a hospital as a cardiac technician and at a homeless shelter for people who had AIDS. After working in healthcare, Mr. McDowell decded to teach human anatomy and physiology as well as environmental science at Galileo in 1998.

During that time, Mr. McDowell discovered that the student drop out rate was extremely high throughout the entire school, so he decided to create the GHA to keep students from dropping out of school. “If students understand why they’re in school, the ones who might drop out will understand the importance of staying in instead. The GHA also shows the importance of being a decent human being at the time where decency is really needed,” he said.

The GHA originated from Mr. McDowell’s human anatomy and physiology class that he taught for 3 years. In 2000, his physiology class first had a Medical Terminology course from City College (CCSF) on campus at Galileo. After that, the class began to have weekly visits to CPMC hospitals. Eventually, everything that he built upon led to the creation of the GHA.Mr. McDowell said “The GHA wasn’t created as a whole at once; it took time for everything to come together and become what it is today.”

The GHA is 2 year-commitment program course during students’ junior year & senior year and it’s packed with benefits for students who are a part of the academy. These benefits include receiving extra high school science credit towards graduation, 10.5 CCSF college units, a CPR certification, and career/college counseling. GHA students also have the opportunity to explore healthcare careers and become eligible to apply for paid internships at CPMC. Through the program, students are also enrolled in the same English class with their peers, allowing the teachers to support them academically and socially through cross-curricular assignments and activities.

The first year of the program (junior) focuses on healthcare career explorations in which students gain experiences by visiting CPMC hospitals weekly. During the first year, students will also be concurrently enrolled in a 3-unit Medical Terminology course through CCSF. The second year (senior) of the program focuses on human physiology and anatomy as well as emergency medicine. During their senior year, GHA students will also be concurrently enrolled in a 8 unit CCSF EMT course in which they’ll become CPR certified and eligible to take the National Board EMT test to receive their EMT certification. Senior GHA students will also attend 3 Saturday Skills Labs at Galileo per semester with instructor, Frank McMahan who’s a retired paramedic; they’ll be taught the necessary health skills to save lives.

Mr. McDowell has been teaching the Health Academy for over 14 years and plans on continuing to teach it because he thinks that the best way to engage students in school is to help them make a connection in their mind between the education they have to invest in and a job at the end of their education. “The Health Academy teaches students the importance of health education which relates to various healthcare careers that are secure and well compensated; students will be helping people and making money at the same time, so it’s a double-win,” said Mr. McDowell.


Photo courtesy of Chyna Brown.

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