Twice a year, students from across the region are invited to apply for the Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) Scholars program. The ARH Scholars are awarded a $5,000 academic scholarship to pursue a degree in healthcare. Their stories are unique, but a common thread unites every winner: a desire to make a difference to the people of Appalachia through healthcare. The Fall 2019 class of ARH Scholars included ten talented future healthcare providers, like Jaxson Ratliff, a senior at Johnson Central High School.
As part of the Johnson Central High School student council and spirit club, an ARH youth health ambassador, and an active part of his church’s youth group and praise team, Jaxson keeps pretty busy. He attributes that to the positive influence of his family, and especially his mother, who teaches chemistry at Johnson Central. “My mom is one of hardest-working people I know. She tries her best at everything she does, gives everything she has, and drives me to work as hard as possible.” Jaxson says his mom’s example and encouragement has made him the student that he is today.
While Jaxson is wrapping up his senior year in high school, he’s already looking ahead. At Johnson Central, he’s been preparing for a career in healthcare by participating in a biomedical science program through Project Lead the Way. “I just love everything involved with that program: the teachers and the curricula are great, and it’s been very eye-opening in terms of what you can do within the medical field.”
Even before beginning the biomedical sciences program, Jaxson already thought he’d like to go into the medical field. His 7-year-old brother, Carson, was born with Down syndrome, and has had many medical challenges in his short life. “My little brother is an inspiration to me. He’s been through so much in his 7 years: surgeries, therapy three times a week, doctor’s appointments. But he always has a smile on his face and he’s always happy. If anyone embodies perseverance, it’s him.”
Jaxson was particularly influenced by the way that Carson’s occupational therapist positively impacted his life. “He started OT when he was about two weeks old, and his therapist has been so wonderful for him. He’s made huge strides that I don’t think he would have made without the help of a professional who cares about what she does and cares about him. As I watched him start to progress under her care, it made me think ‘I would love to be able to do the same thing and have that kind of impact.’ So, as I’ve been trying to decide what to do professionally, occupational therapy has been one of the frontrunners for me.”
It was through his participation with the ARH Youth Health Ambassadors program that Jaxson was introduced to the ARH Scholars program, and with sights set on healthcare he decided to apply. When he found out that he’d been selected, “it was definitely a day of celebration in the Ratliff household!” he says. He’s putting his scholarship towards his first year at Morehead State University, beginning in the fall of 2020. He’ll be majoring in exercise science and, he hopes, minoring in traditional music, before continuing on to pursue a post-baccalaureate degree.
Ultimately Jaxon just wants to help those in need. “I want to see special needs individuals develop in the best way that they can. I want to be able to provide an experience for patients like my brother has with his therapist. She’s been with him since he was two and does an amazing job in every session with him. She is always thinking of new ways to try to help him learn and grow. Every special needs person should have the chance to have the same level of caring. I want to provide that.”