• Article
  • October 24, 2019

Bringing up the Next Generation of Children's Hospital Workers

Children’s hospitals are working to attract and recruit tomorrow’s health care workers through educational programs and internships.

By Megan McDonnell Busenbark

Today’s children’s hospitals are working to attract and recruit tomorrow’s health care workers through educational programs and internships designed to introduce youth to the many career opportunities that exist inside a children’s hospital.

Here are the stories of three institutions with different programs, all with the goal of bringing up the next generation of health care workers.

Jessica Saavedra was 17 when her heart became set on a career in pediatric medicine. She was a junior in high school when she was job-shadowing in the operating room as part of a mentoring program at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

“I was with a child who just had his tonsils removed,” says Saavedra, who now serves as program specialist, Community Engagement & Workforce Education at the same hospital. “The child didn’t have family around, and he was alone after the procedure. As he was waking up post-surgery, he held onto my hand. Maybe it’s a small moment, but it was special for me. And it sparked my interest in a career of providing care for children in a hospital setting.”

Helping youth chase their dreams

In the Pathology department at Lurie Children’s Hospital, Julian Ocampo, Alfredo Ruiz and Sharonda Pipkins used petri dishes to culture bacteria on their hands.
In the Pathology department at Lurie Children’s Hospital, Julian Ocampo, Alfredo Ruiz and Sharonda Pipkins used petri dishes to culture bacteria on their hands.

This program at Lurie Children’s is called CHASE Your Dreams: Discovering Healthcare Careers. The mission: to help students discover the unlimited possibilities in health care. Through a six-week summer internship, participants have real-world access to the industry—from observing surgeries or examining X-rays with the medical imaging staff, to spending the day with a bedside nurse or taking a field trip to a local university’s medical college.

How It Works

  • At Lurie Children’s, the team recruits students between the ages of 17 and 19 from 40 public schools across Chicago.
  • Students receive a stipend.
  • About 25 departments from Lurie Children’s participate in the program, from cardiology and child psychology to the NICU, operating room, emergency department, and areas like family services, social work and interpreting services.
  • The program has multiple funders, including Chicago Public Schools and J.P Morgan Chase, among others.

The program also offers training workshops, networking and leadership development opportunities—even future work potential. “We’re investing in our future by planting the seed of the many different careers that can be found in health care, and most importantly, of how marketable you are,” says Maria Rivera, manager, Community Engagement & Workforce Education at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. “Wherever the students go, even if they decide to relocate, there will always be health care careers.”

This program has 600 alumni, and they are diverse youth from under-resourced communities. This ensures the program’s student body mirrors the diversity of the hospital’s patient base, as alumni become part of the hospital’s future recruitment pool.

Last year, Lurie Children’s hired 12 of them—from nurses to medical assistants and certified nursing assistants, according to Rivera. “This is the goal—to have students come back or continue their career in health care somewhere else,” she says.

The best part of the program, Rivera says, is watching students start out pursuing a career in one role, but after being exposed to so many areas inside a children’s hospital, they decide to take a different path in the industry.

“We had one student who wanted to be a pharmacist,” says Rivera. “But after shadowing a nurse practitioner, she realized as a nurse practitioner, she would have the best of both worlds.”

Beyond clinical roles

Nabin Chhetri (left) assisted the Biomedical Engineering department at Akron Children’s by fixing and inventorying medical equipment.
Nabin Chhetri (left) assisted the Biomedical Engineering department at Akron Children’s by fixing and inventorying medical equipment.

Akron Children’s Hospital in Ohio is on a similar mission to open students’ eyes to the career opportunities inside a children’s hospital. The Akron Children’s Hospital Academy of Health & Human Services is part of the College & Career Academies at North High School in the Akron public school system.

How It Works

  • More than 150 Akron Children’s employees engaged with the program in the 2018-19 school year.
  • There are approximately 300 students in the Academy.
  • About 100 students shadowed employees at Akron Children’s Hospital.
  • The hospital donates time and talent to the Academy, along with funds for one full-time employee to coordinate the program.

“I describe the hospital as a little city, with so many facets that make us work and make us whole, whether it’s our facilities or grounds, engineering or food service, customer service or IT,” says Bernett L. Williams, vice president of external affairs at Akron Children’s Hospital. “There are so many different careers in a hospital that aren’t the traditional clinical careers.”

And Williams has seen students light up with interest when they learn of those health care careers that fall outside of the better-known doctor and nurse categories.

“One of the things we say to the students is that no matter what their interest, it probably has a place within health care,” says Thomas Jefferson, Career Academy liaison and coordinator of special projects, external affairs at Akron Children’s Hospital. “If someone has an interest in music, we have music therapists who work at the hospital. If someone is interested in law, we have a legal team. We have accounting if they’re interested in the numbers. Even if they don’t want to be on the front lines working with patients, they can still work in a hospital.”

Learning in and out of the classroom

The Akron Children’s Hospital Academy of Health & Human Services focuses on four pathways, including allied health—introducing students to the delivery of diagnostic, technical, therapeutic, direct patient care and support services—biomedical science, health care operations and early childhood education.

The multi-faceted program has brought students in grades 10 through 12 at Akron’s North High School into the hospital to learn, and it has brought hospital staff into the school to facilitate real-life lessons.

For example, when a teacher at North High School was teaching phlebotomy last year, an employee from the lab at Akron Children’s went to the school to talk about her job, education and the different roles she had in her career. She also helped the students practice blood-drawing skills on a mannequin during a hands-on exercise.

In other cases, sports medicine teams from Akron Children’s have gone to the school to perform sports physicals for fall athletes. Health care professionals also have contributed to classroom learning by showing students how concepts they are learning in math or English would apply to a job in health care. Jefferson says they call this “teaching through the lens.”

Akron Children’s program, which began in January 2018, also offers job shadowing, industry field trips and an eight-week, paid summer internship to students. Other opportunities include the Viking Scholars cohort program, named for the North High School mascot. Here, 10 students per group are paired with professionals within the hospital during their junior or senior years for more in-depth learning experiences inside the children’s hospital setting.

Even beyond the health care specifics, students of this program took personality tests and learned how the results relate to possible career choices. They learned about personal branding, mindfulness, diversity and many other soft skills to help them in life and work, says Jefferson. “There are well-seasoned adults who don’t get some of those experiences that our students were able to take advantage of during this program,” adds Williams.

Discover new abilities

During Rady Children’s Hospital’s Emergency, Trauma and Transport Medicine Day, students rotate through hands-on clinical skills such as administering CPR.
During Rady Children’s Hospital’s Emergency, Trauma and Transport Medicine Day, students rotate through hands-on clinical skills such as administering CPR.

Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego is introducing a wide range of high-school students—from freshmen to seniors who have just graduated—to health care careers through a series of medical academies. The Summer Medical Academy is an intensive two-week program designed for students with interest in a health care career.

How It Works

  • At Rady Children’s, students come from California, but some have come from Nevada and as far away as Florida. “We have a student this year from Indonesia,” says Shelli Brown, youth development program manager.
  • Students’ families pay for the programs.
  • 30% of the fees go back to FACES for the Future, a health careers pathway program at Rady Children’s that helps socio-economically diverse high school students prepare for careers that offer livable wages and upward mobility.
  • The academies have educated about 475 students from July 2014 through May 2019.

The academy includes lectures and interactive discussions, hands-on skills clinics, group projects, customized career panels, team building, networking and self-care activities. There are even disaster-preparedness drills and sessions on de-stressing as a health care worker. The program is coordinated by the Rady Children’s Center for Healthier Communities, alongside community partners.

According to Alexandra Ayala, the students in the Summer Academy are given an introduction followed by a field assignment on a health care epidemic or timely topic. From there, the students create a relevant public service announcement. “During the last two sessions, the most prominent issue was suicide with a focus on prevention,” says Ayala, lead coordinator, Center for Healthier Communities at Rady Children’s. “The years before that, it was the opioid epidemic.”

The Weekend Medical Academy is a condensed learning opportunity that takes a deeper dive into topics ranging from nursing to the role of mental health in overall health. The team at Rady Children’s is considering adding a Weekend Academy focused on sports medicine given strong interest coming out of an Orthopedic Day, where orthopedic experts came in to present, hold casting clinics with the students and show them what a day in the life of an orthopedic care provider looked like.

The Advanced Medical Academy is for alumni of other Rady Children’s medical academies who have a strong interest in pursuing a surgical career. Here, students shadow a surgeon and interact with the multi-disciplinary surgical team. According to Mary Beth Moran, director, Center for Healthier Communities at Rady Children’s, nothing in the world is better than the hands-on experience this program brings.

“Students discover skills they never knew they had,” Moran says. “Or if a student has a harder time with fine motor skills, like threading a needle for sutures, they realize they will need to work on those skills if they aspire to become a surgeon.”

Brown says the sentiments of the students show the value of programs like this, sharing a comment from one student recounting the experience: “I learned to be brave and to know what my limits were, while pushing myself to break them. I learned to network with professionals and put myself out there to connect to my peers. Overall, it led me to be a better, more well-rounded person.”

And all these programs are designed to lead students like this into a successful, fulfilling career in a children’s hospital—in one role or another.

Megan McDonnell Busenbark is founder and principal of Encore Communications, LLC, in Omaha, Nebraska.

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