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Career and Technical Education (CTE) | CTE Career Clusters | Health Science

What Is the Health Science Career Cluster?

April 20th, 2022 | 15 min. read

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The health science career cluster is a career and technical education (CTE) pathway in which students learn about wellness, nutrition, medicine, injury, disease, technology, and hundreds of other subjects.

Depending on what they want for their futures, health science students can work in both research and practical capacities. Many may become nurses or nursing assistants, but it’s also possible to become a biotechnology researcher, surgical assistant, technician, and more.

These are all great outcomes. But what makes health science a “career cluster?” What does it mean? And is it really as important as people say?

We’ll answer all of those questions individually.

Health Science Career Cluster Definition


By definition, the health science career cluster is an educational area dedicated to teaching students how to be health care professionals. It’s one of the 16 career clusters included in career and technical education (CTE), formerly known as vocational education. 

In fact, some health science programs still carry the “vocational” name, like “nursing vocational program” or something similar.

The name “career and technical education” started to get used over the past few decades as technology became a greater factor in everyday life, including skills-based careers.

So while health science careers can still be considered “vocations” (every job is a vocation, after all), the career cluster is part of CTE.

This is especially important to note since medical technology and research accelerate at a blinding pace these days. If students don’t learn the technology behind careers like nursing and patient care, they won’t be prepared to succeed in their careers.

And in health science, that could cost lives.

That brings us to the next big question – why is the health science career cluster so important?

Why Is the Health Science Career Cluster Important?


In a nutshell, health science education matters because it trains the medical professionals of the next generation.

More specifically, the aging population of the world (especially the United States) is placing a higher demand on medical services.

Some of that includes post-secondary graduates like doctors and surgeons.

But they only make up a small percentage of health science careers.

The lion’s share of health care professionals doesn’t graduate from a long-term medical school. Instead, they learn in the health science career cluster.

These individuals learn from subject matter experts who have experience in the field of health science, making a student’s education a hybrid of traditional classroom instruction and an apprenticeship.

By learning tried-and-true medical procedures and cutting-edge technology, health science students can then decide whether they want to enter the workforce or further pursue their education.

But that’s not to say students who enter the workforce are done with their education. They still have a lot to learn, and they’ll learn it on the job.

So when do students start learning health science, anyway? Do they jump into it as a senior in high school, or do they start when they’re younger?

1. Education: Middle School, High School, & CTCs


If you wanted to participate in a CTE career cluster 20 years ago, you probably had to go to a specific career and technical center (CTC) to learn.

Today, it’s much more common for high schools to offer CTE options to students so they can pursue the education they need for the careers they want.

It’s also becoming increasingly common for middle schools to offer CTE to students interested in a certain career pathway.

But why go that young?

In a nutshell, the earlier you teach students, the easier it is for them to learn and retain information.

So if a student has an interest in the medical field at an early age, they can start learning about it in middle school.

This opens up a lot of opportunities for students, too.

Take Mark Rodgers of Jupiter Middle School, for example. He’s a middle school health science teacher in Palm Beach County, Florida. He introduces students to health science at a young age so they can get a leg-up in their education.

Once students complete Mark’s coursework, they can move into the high school’s health science program. If they stick with that through graduation, students can leave high school with an Associate’s degree – no strings attached!

This kind of accelerated learning is the perfect career jumpstart for students who know what kind of career they want at an early age.

It’s also the perfect educational background to pursue higher education, like a Bachelor’s degree.

So it may sound strange on paper to introduce the health science career cluster as early as middle school.

But the payoffs speak for themselves.

This is all about results though. Are students even interested in the health science career cluster in the first place?

2. CTE Participation: 36% of Students Are Involved in Health Science


While health science is still finding a home in middle schools, it’s 100% solidified as a cornerstone of high school education and CTCs.

In fact, 36% of all CTE students in 2012 pursued a career in the health science career cluster. That means this single career cluster included more than one third of all students enrolled in CTE programs.

The other 15 career clusters had to share the remaining 64% of students.

So for every three students enrolled in CTE, one of them pursues health science.


That’s an incredible participation rate by any measurement, although it’s hard to pinpoint one specific reason why students flock to health science.

One possibility is that the job market is abundant for health science graduates. Nurses in particular have the capability to apply to multiple positions, negotiate pay, and start their careers at a decent wage compared to other career paths.

Other students may choose health science because a relative inspired them. It’s surprisingly common to hear that someone became a medical professional because their parent, sibling, or extended family was also involved in health care.

Last, students could be motivated by the goodness of their hearts. In health care, every occupation plays a role in helping others live their lives to the fullest. Everyone from a neurosurgeon to a medical assistant does something to help patients get back on their feet – even if it’s organizing paperwork.

All of these reasons (and others) could play major roles in a student’s decision to pursue health science.

But it’s not just the draw of medical information that gets students involved in the career cluster.

It’s also the prospect of college and career readiness.

3. Applications: College & Career Readiness


College and career readiness is another area of education that’s gaining momentum in schools across the country. It also works hand-in-hand with health science education.

As a CTE career cluster, health science is entirely based on the idea of giving students the career-based skills they need to succeed in the workforce.

But health science is also based on medical theory and traditional learning, two concepts that form the basis of post-secondary education.

So even though students study a hyper-specialized area, they graduate high school with two very different life options.

  1. Two- or four-year college (or more for future doctors)
  2. Joining the health care workforce

There’s no right answer. The best decision is the one that works for that student’s skillset and personal ambitions.

These two choices will take students down very different paths in life. But the fact that both opportunities are available is an enormous advantage.

Students who choose to pursue post-secondary education can most likely apply credits to their graduation progress at a university. That means less time (and money) wrapped up in schooling to get a typical four-year degree.

Students who opt to pursue a career right away will enter a much more specific workforce than other graduates their age. Instead of having to choose among unskilled, low-wage occupations, health science graduates can use their education to start a career that will financially support them and personally fulfill them.  

It’s rare to find an area of study that equips and empowers students to the extent of health science. In that respect, pursuing CTE health science at any age doesn’t limit or pigeon-hole any student – it only opens doors for them.

And speaking of opening doors, health care is home to hundreds of career opportunities that students can only access through health science.

4. Scope: 300+ Specialty Careers


Just like how health science education preps students for their careers and future education, it also preps students for a huge number of careers.

Some of these careers require specialty courses. Others may require on-the-job experience.

But they all start with CTE health science courses.

In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the health care field will add 1.6 million jobs to the US economy between 2016 and 2026 – and that’s just for the top 10 health care careers!

There are more than 300 specialized careers in health care that are inaccessible without a health science education.

Some of these include careers you hear about every day, such as:

  1. Home health aides
  2. Nursing assistants
  3. Medical office assistants
  4. Phlebotomists
  5. Emergency medical technicians
  6. Emergency medical responders
  7. Medical assistants

Depending on your area and legal requirements, individuals may be able to pursue these careers without a background in health science.

Sometimes, they just need to pass a certification.

But even those certifications are more attainable and manageable when someone has a health science education.

By those standards, the health science career cluster helps students find the careers of their dreams.

How they pursue those dreams is ultimately up to them.

But an entire career cluster can’t make decisions for every single one of its students. They have to figure out what they want on their own.

As they do, they’ll always have the solid background and education  from their CTE health science program.

Overall, the last four points illustrate why health science is so important to students. But there’s one more big factor to consider.

What does health science mean for the future?

5. Results: Stronger Education & Brighter Futures


The health science career cluster benefits everyone involved – teachers, students, administrators, and even the general public.

We’ve mentioned some of this information in previous points, but they bear repeating. After all, they point to the same end result.

The health science career cluster is the foundation for students’ futures.

In 2012, the US Department of Education conducted a study of 2004 graduates and their post-secondary experiences.

Health science had the second-highest number of post-secondary pursuers with 90% of all students moving into post-secondary education at some point between 2004 and 2012.

“Post-secondary” in this case doesn’t just mean a four-year university either. It also means two-year programs, community colleges, career and technical centers, and other institutions.

But that number speaks volumes by itself.

With such a high rate of success, it’s clear that health science students are dedicated to their educations.

For the 10% that didn’t pursue post-secondary education, that’s okay too —  there are plenty of certifications and training opportunities for health science students to start their careers without higher education.

Today, there’s actually a growing need for certificate-earners in health care, particularly among home health aides.

Those careers pay well, and they engage a demographic of educated individuals who otherwise may not get a chance at a fulfilling career just because they didn’t go to college.

In that respect, the health science career cluster — and CTE in general — is strengthening the United States economy by raising the pay grade for high school graduates in careers that the economy needs.

For those who don’t pursue post-secondary education, health science still has a wide range of opportunities.

Specifically, 12 of the 20 fastest-growing jobs in the US economy are focused in the health care field. Health care in general has added more than 2.6 million jobs in 10 years, and it’s growing at a rate of 18%, which is much faster than the US average.

Students are responding, too. From 2002 to 2012, health certificates and associate’s degrees increased by 137%.

Most telling, 42% of all students seeking certificates between 2011 and 2012 were enrolled in health science.

That level of success is unheard of in any other career area.

With so much happening and so much opportunity, health science students are sure to find a job that’s right for them where they can help save lives.

Overcome Your Teaching Challenges in the Health Science Career Cluster

As one of the most popular CTE pathways, the health science career cluster offers many career opportunities for students. With the right curriculum and instruction, students who pursue medical careers will be well prepared to work in the industry.

However, if you’re new to teaching, making sure your students are prepared for opportunities in the health science career cluster is easier said than done.

Most teachers face challenges in the classroom that can prevent them and their students from being successful. Thankfully, there are ways to overcome these obstacles and better lead your learners.

To learn about the five most significant challenges facing health science articles, download your free guide. You’ll discover what these challenges are and how to overcome them in your classroom.Overcome Your Biggest Challenges as a Health Science Teacher