Launching Life-Saving Careers… and Loving Every Minute of It!
News Center – November 2021
Cindy Lindsay knows what it’s like to work shorthanded. Throughout her varied career as a healthcare professional, she relied on her kinetic personality and relentless work ethic to overcome staffing shortages.
Lindsay and her fellow nurses were confident, compassionate, and always on-point. The problem? There were simply not enough of them.
“It is just something that fires me up more than anything,” says Lindsay, who decided to do something about it in 2010, hanging up her scrubs to become a Medical Career Instructor at Shasta High School. “There really is a shortage of teachers in the career technical field, and it’s really too bad. It contributes to the nursing shortage.”
While the scarcity of qualified nurses is a national concern, very few consider the need for nursing instructors. Meanwhile, almost no one talks about the lack of K-12 CTE medical teachers — the very root of a robust educational pipeline for health care careers.
That’s why Lindsay is a driving force behind the district’s CTE Medical Science program. Since the pathway’s inception 12 years ago, she has taught hundreds of students in hands-on classes and clinical experiences. Recently, she helped spearhead a new wellness center for the high school, where students can receive much-needed emotional support and practice caring career skills on their peers.
“It’s very difficult to find individuals… that choose to go into the [teaching] field and work these programs,” says industry partner Mark Mitchelson, Chief Nursing Officer at Shasta Regional Medical Center, where high schoolers do their clinical rotations. He’s worked closely with Lindsay for years and says her spirit is inspiring.
“She really knows how to work the local system to be as successful as possible,” he praises. “I’ve never seen somebody with so much energy.”
Mitchelson sees Lindsay’s students as a major asset, helping with the day-to-day of running the hospital and offering support to staff and patients alike.
“Our patient satisfaction scores have routinely been at a high point — I think, in part, because of these students,” beams the CNO. In fact, he says, many grads continue to work at the hospital as they earn associate degrees and beyond, becoming an important part of the staff.
“The program is just impressive,” says Mitchelson. “Cindy’s got the right recipe for it, and I’m very interested to see how it continues to grow.”
A veteran in the medical field, Lindsay worked in physical therapy, cardiac rehab, and nursing before becoming a teacher. Recently, she participated in several conferences highlighting the fact that many schools can’t find personnel to teach their medical CTE classes.
It’s not that they’re averse to the idea, Lindsay says. In fact, most medical professionals don’t even know that teaching is an option… let alone the rewards that come with it: “The benefit to coming into the schools that a lot of people don’t think about is that the benefits are great.”
She recalls working as a nurse at a private hospital, where she had “horrible” benefits: “Hospitals usually don’t have great retirement, and ironically, they usually have really crappy insurance.”
But now, as a public employee, she enjoys “fabulous” perks, along with a robust retirement through California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS). Most importantly, Lindsay says, she’s no longer under the thumb of the hectic nursing schedule that was so hard on her family.
“Most of the time, you leave the house at 5:30, and your kids aren’t up,” Lindsay recalls about her hospital hustle. “You get home at seven or 7:30, then you’ve got to get up again at 4:30 in the morning the next day.”
The fact that her shifts were usually stacked together made it even tougher. “You don’t see your kids for three days, and that’s just brutal.”
Plus, because hospitals never close, she only got to choose two holidays a year—and never had the same ones twice in a row.
“They’re like, ‘You had Christmas and Easter last year, so how about Thanksgiving and Veterans Day this year?’” By the time she decided on her career change, she had seen enough. “I really do want to have every holiday — I want to have the same schedule as my kids.”
Becoming a teacher allowed Lindsay to have a flexible schedule, the same days off as her children, and a healthy life-work balance. The best part? She says teaching is a walk in the park compared to her old beat in acute care.
“It’s funny because even right now with COVID, a lot of the teachers are saying, ‘We’re so stressed,’” says Lindsay. “And I’m like, ‘This is nothing compared to working at the hospital!’”
She admits that getting the “cream-of-the-crop students” is a big help. Because only juniors and seniors who are highly driven “overachievers” take her class, she tends to encounter personalities similar to her own. “These kids are cake—they’re lovely… I feel sorry for the poor math teachers!”
The instructor says students are absolutely “giddy” about classes because she teaches real skills leading to professional licenses in medical assisting and patient care tech. And because most students get a job right out of the program, they are highly motivated.
“The whole thing is just the most delightful job ever,” Lindsay raves.
Part of the magic is taking students into their clinical rotations at the local hospital, where they experience everything from X-ray to respiratory care. That versatile, hands-on approach works wonders for student preparedness, according to Lindsay.
“If a student has gone through my program… their chances of making it through college and being successful is about 1,000 times more than any other kid.”
Take Lindsay’s former student Madison Saddoris, who always wanted to go into medicine but didn’t have a specific career in mind until finding the program at Shasta High. According to the grateful grad, “You have a special experience of getting a lot more contact with medical crews, more than anyone else just going through high school.”
Now, Saddoris is finishing up her bachelor’s at Sonoma State, with plans to pursue a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree starting next year.
“Cindy was so awesome,” recalls Saddoris, who believes the medical program in high school gave her a competitive edge. “I was a lot more ready to handle anatomy, physiology and other sciences because I already had a taste of it in her classes.”
For Saddoris, Lindsay went the extra mile, providing a written recommendation for her grad school applications. Says the grateful student, “She continues to support us even after the class is over.”
Lindsay notes that many professionals in the medical field aren’t aware that they can teach CTE. For example, when a local oncology doctor retired and turned to teaching, he didn’t consider becoming a CTE instructor.
“I’m like, ‘Why are you teaching math?” Lindsay fumed. “Teach CTE—you have a wealth of knowledge about medicine!’”
For healthcare professionals facing injury or burnout, Lindsay believes teaching to be the perfect remedy. The only qualification they need to start teaching is five years’ experience in the field, not necessarily a degree. That was a game-changer for Lindsay’s new team teacher, who had worked in patient care tech for six years but became a teacher when she couldn’t get into nursing school.
Alternatively, “a lot of people get into nursing and just go… ‘This is really hard, physically and mentally, and I’m not going to do it,’” says the instructor. Many go into social work or management yet don’t realize they can enrich their local high schools.
“I just wish that more folks in the field would come and teach in the schools — it’s a fabulous opportunity,” says Lindsay. Her students go on to work in hospitals, enter nursing school or, like Saddoris, embark on other fields in the medical profession.
“That’s the part that is super gratifying, and the hours are great, the summers off are great, and I have the same schedule as my kids,” says Lindsay. “All of that is totally worth it.”