Seventeen teenagers from across Richmond listened to a panel of health care professionals Wednesday at the Kaiser Foundation Rehabilitation Center in Vallejo as they all shared stories about working in the medical profession and what schooling it took to get there.
The students are part of a Kaiser-funded 12-week program called Live Up, which addresses health care issues for culturally diverse populations with the hope of influencing young people to choose a health care profession.
Program creator and award-winning spoken word artist Ise Lyfe said he got the idea for Live Up when he realized that young people are becoming numb to their violent and polluted environment. He used himself as an example, saying that at the age of 17 he witnessed a murder at a concert. “It was a life turning point for me, not because it scared me, but because I witnessed something so crazy and I didn’t feel anything. Now as a professional my work has been about how do we get young people to feel, not just educate the mind about health disparity in Richmond but about understanding with the heart,” he said.
Lyfe said it took him six months to design a curriculum encompassing social justice, violence prevention, clean air disparity, chronic illness, mental health and sexually transmitted diseases and infections. “We needed a program that integrated social justice and health in one—that employed young people, informed young people and held doctors and clinicians responsible,” said Lyfe. “Don’t just say ‘Eat good, don’t be violent.’ That’s why today the doctors are telling them how long it took to get involved in this [practicing physical medicine].”
“When I started designing this program, young people needed to be exposed to environments where they can physically see themselves becoming a practitioner in the health field,” he continued.
At Wednesday’s event, the seven guest speakers included a traumatic brain specialist, a clinical psychologist, an occupational therapist, a speech pathologist, a physical therapist and rehabilitation nurses. They not only talked about the academic realities of pursuing such professions but the fulfillment they feel when they see patients improve. They also addressed the patient-doctor relationship and the objectiveness needed not to get emotionally involved when a patient has a lot of success or a setback.
Rehabilitation nurse Gail Sims said she got her start by volunteering at a hospital and then worked at a nursing home to help pay her way through college. “Perseverance is key. You don’t have to be the smartest,” said Sims. “If you really want something bad enough you’ll find a way.”
The panel agreed it took them anywhere between seven and 10 years of college to get where they are today, but that not everyone goes straight to college after high school. Occupational therapist Meredith Young said she was a potter before she made the career shift, while speech pathologist Kam Gardner said she was a bookkeeper for 10 years before she went back to school.
Being accident-prone at an early age helped physical therapist Marci Silverberg find her calling. She said because she fell off her bike and broke her wrist and elbow she was always in physical therapy. Learning things about the body would do her some good, she said.
“People that choose to go into these helping professions have something inside of them that wants to help other people,” said Silverberg. “We love what we do, so we like to share it with other people. If we can teach someone who’s young and just on the point of deciding what they want to do and open up there eyes to something in a hospital setting or working with people, and help them find something they enjoy doing, we would welcome them to the profession and love to work with them.”
Neuropsychologist Richard Delmonico said that on the surface it appears the medical profession only works with human tragedy. What’s fascinating, he told the students, was that most of their patients do improve. “If they come in on a stretcher they leave walking,” said Delmonico. “It’s an exciting place to work.”
Delmonico also shed some light on the work day of a doctor. “We spend more time at work than we do with our families,” said the doctor. “What ever you choose to do it’s really important that you like what you do.”
After a pizza break the group went on a tour of the hospital to see what it’s like to work at one. They saw the gym where patients practice physical therapy and got to see up close all the gadgets patients use to heal their body and mind.
The students involved with the program come from all walks of life: some are on probation, some are teenage parents, while others have been accepted to four-year universities.
Kennedy High student Lamajhane King, 15, said her grandmother is a social worker and that she always knew she wanted to work with kids. “When Live Up offered this opportunity I was really excited about it because I knew I would hear options by talking to a lot of people,” said King. “So far being here has been really great!”
For El Cerrito High student Shirley Beh, 18, having some time to make a career choice was music to hear ears. Although Beh has been accepted to UC San Diego to study psychology, knowing what she wants to do with her life now is a little daunting. “At UCSD I can slowly choose and explore and then find out what I really want to do over the next for years,” said Beh.