Originally published in Alameda Magazine.

By Andrea A. Firth

June 8, 2017

Two teen internship programs give high schoolers meaningful health care job experiences in working hospital settings.

Life Academy senior Natalie Peòa Serafin, 18, left, watches a suregon at Benioff Children’s Oakland.

Life Academy senior Natalie Peòa Serafin, 18, left, watches a suregon at Benioff Children’s Oakland.

Ten students from Alameda High School talked quietly and munched on brownies as they sat around a long table in a conference room at Alameda Hospital on a recent Wednesday afternoon. Each outfitted in a blue lab coat, they looked like they worked there.

“I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, ever since I got a toy doctor play set as a little kid,” said Shayla Nash, a junior. She wants to be a pediatrician. Over the past few weeks, Nash had observed CT scans, mammograms, and X-rays in the hospital’s imaging services department.

“I toured the entire hospital following my mentor in the environmental services department,” said Eulix Chiu, a senior. “There’s more to keeping a hospital clean and antiseptic than soap. The rotation gave me insight to how things really work in a hospital, how you interact with patients,” he added.

After observing in the stroke unit, senior Megan Tran’s mentor took her to the pharmacy department and physical therapy. “I have several family members who are pharmacists, so it was good to get an exposure to what that is like, but I’m more interested in physical therapy.” Tran plans to go to a four-year college and study kinesiology and then get her master’s in physical therapy.

Chiu, Nash, and Tran are part of a program that launched in January and may extend to Encinal High School in Alameda and San Leandro Hospital soon. “We are interested in building a health care workforce that looks like the community we serve,” said Jessica Pitt, executive director of HealthPATH, which coordinates internships and work-based learning experiences for youth in Alameda Health System’s hospitals and clinics. Students apply to the two-year program, which meets for two hours each week during the school year. First, they attend a workshop where they learn about health care privacy laws, infection control, medical ethics, and patient-centered care. After that, they rotate through three hospital departments and average about 120 hours of internship time. HealthPATH has a longstanding youth health care internship program at Highland Hospital, too. “We see ourselves as an anchor employer. Our motivation is to invest in our community,” said Pitt.

Heath care systems in both Alameda and Oakland are connecting with local high school youth, specifically underrepresented, low-income, minority students, to give them exposure to the working world of health care. These programs not only work to fill the local health care work force, but also provide a pathway to college and jobs in allied health professions.

Jennifer Maciel, 16, right, a junior at Life Academy, observes NICU care at Benioff Children’s Oakland.

Jennifer Maciel, 16, right, a junior at Life Academy, observes NICU care at Benioff Children’s Oakland.

​Marwat Al-Olefi, a senior at Oakland’s Life Academy, has been part of CHAMPS, Community Health & Adolescent Mentoring Program for Success, since she was in 10th grade. She has spent fours hours a week during the school year at Oakland’s UCSF Benioff’s Children’s Hospital following doctors, nurses, and pharmacists as part of the health-care team on medical floors, in the HIV/AIDS unit, and in the outpatient clinics.

CHAMPS’ two-and-a-half-year internships draw students from several Oakland and Berkeley public high schools. Competition to get an internship is steep; each year only about half of the students who apply gain acceptance to the 30-person program. The students are exposed to a range of health care professions, receive a grade and elective credit, along with support with standardized test-taking and the college application process.

Launched in 2000, CHAMPS has graduated close to 500 students. In 2016, all 31 of the CHAMPS graduating seniors went on to higher education, three-quarters of them to a four-year college. This year, CHAMPS students have already been accepted to UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Irvine, and UCLA, along with a number of CSU campuses, Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, and Mills College in Oakland.

Al-Olefi’s current rotation is in the anesthesiology department, and her job on a recent Monday was to shadow nurse practitioner Rob Wallace. This was right up Al-Olefi’s alley because she plans to be a surgeon. Wearing light blue scrubs with booties over her shoes and a hair net, she stayed step for step with Wallace and hung on every word. First stop, the radiology department to review the results of a patient’s earlier scan then on to the nursing station to get background on the next patient they would visit with in the emergency department. Along the way, Al-Olefi described a surgery she had observed a few weeks earlier. “There was an infected leg, brownish, bloody discharge, deteriorating tissues, mottled bone,” she explained. Did she feel squeamish? “No, not at all,” she responded. She had the vocabulary and the stomach for a surgeon’s work down already.

Edited on June 22, 2018.