Estefania Estrada knew she wanted to join Alameda Health System’s (AHS) HealthPATH On-Ramp to Health Careers college internship but English is her second language, and she was intimidated by the essay portion of the application. With the help of a community college mentor, Estrada pushed through her nerves, hit the submit button, and – to her surprise – got a big yes.
“I was so excited. I felt seen,” she said. “All the work that I had been doing in my professional development, my career, they saw it. Being selected gave me the light at the end of the tunnel, it let me know I was on the right path.”
Every year, dozens of college students like Estrada come through Highland Hospital’s doors in search of hands-on medical experience via the HealthPATH program. HealthPATH is currently accepting a new round of applications, that are due October 4. Students at Berkeley City College, Chabot College, College of Alameda, Laney College, and Merritt College are eligible to apply.
The students leave the program with a host of new professional experiences, renewed self-confidence, and a better idea of which healthcare profession they want to focus on.
“I don’t have anybody in my family who does anything in the medical field,” said Hui Qiao Wu, who interned with the physical therapy department this summer. “HealthPATH helped me zoom in on which positions I would actually like to pursue in my career.”
Ihuoma Kanu interned this summer in the AHS Health Professions Training and Education Center, also known as the simulation center, and spent a week toward the end of her internship shadowing practitioners in the maternal and child health department. That’s where she witnessed her first birth.
“To be able to be in these scrubs with a hairnet on while all of these physicians are performing a c-section, it was so surreal,” Kanu said. “It was amazing.”
Kanu wants to be a doctor, and learned various procedures that AHS doctors were practicing in the simulation center during her time there. She also focused on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives during her internship.
“I want to be a familiar face to any Black patients who come in,” she said. “I want to give them equitable care. Being a doctor is where I can really focus that leadership.”
Many HealthPATH interns come from immigrant families and experience numerous barriers to accessing healthcare professions.
Estrada’s family immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico, and she graduated high school during the 2008 recession. She waited tables and lived paycheck to paycheck before deciding to challenge herself and go to community college.
She said her hands-on experience in HealthPATH has helped her better understand the social determinants of health she has witnessed in her community.
“It gives you more connection to what our mainly Black and brown community goes through when it comes to trauma and substance abuse,” she said. “As a future health care professional, it’s really necessary to see the bigger picture. Sometimes it’s more than what you can write down or follow in a textbook.”
Alameda Health System offers a number of educational opportunities for middle school, high school and college students. Visit http://healthpath-ahs.org/ for more information.