On Friday, 16 West County high school students completed a paid summer internship program at Doctors Medical Center and were awarded certificates of proficiency by the Contra Costa County Office of Education. The five-week Summer Youth Employment Program acquainted students with the kind of work done in different hospital departments such as human resources, food and nutrition, the sleep lab and the cancer center.
Bobby Ward, youth development services specialist for the Contra Costa County Office of Education, said the internship program is part of a federal program that enrolls students in year-round services to enrich their academic achievement. “For most of the students it’s their first job, and a lot of them are interested in the medical field as a career,” he said. “So in this partnership, it gives them a great opportunity to learn about that field and make sure they want to go into it.”
Ward said each student attended 12 hours of pre-employment workshops—which covered workplace behavior, public speaking and writing cover letters and resumes—to get them ready for the summer program. Most students were selected based on their interest in the medical field and participation in their school’s health academy, he said.
The graduation ceremony was held in the hospital’s auditorium, while officials from the Western Contra Costa Healthcare District, and Contra Costa County Office of Education Youth Development gave opening remarks. Prior to receiving their graduation certificate, each student intern walked up to the mic and described their summer experience. The audience learned that hospital work is not for the faint of heart: two students described seeing blood while a patient was being stitched up, while another saw someone die.
Pearla Ponce, a senior at Richmond High, said she was nervous about starting her job in the respiratory department because she got to see patients at their most vulnerable moments. “At one point, I saw a patient who was really critical lose their life, and that really touched me,” she said.
Kristen Mason, a senior at Leadership Public Schools, worked in the cancer center. She said her experiences of holding patients during radiation and of identifying breast cancer on a mammogram motivated her to become an oncologist even more. “This internship taught me to face my fears,” she said. “My number one fear was speaking in public. I’ve defeated that and now I’m fearless. Furthermore, I learned that [oncologists] are working for good wages and each individual loves their job.”
But not everyone who graduated from the program wants to continue working in a hospital. Alfreddi Beulah, a senior at Leadership Public Schools, said even though he learned a lot by working in the cafeteria and plant operation department, he wants to follow his dream of becoming an aeronautical engineer. “I hope to be able to transfer that [knowledge] into my field,” he said of learning to stop the spread of infections.
Eric Zell, board chair of the Western Contra Costa Healthcare District, said the hospital is a unique place to work and learn because it’s so busy. The emergency room alone sees 40,000 patients per year, he said.
“The internship has been a great experience for not only the students, but for the hospital as well, because this is real hands-on,” Zell said. “Working in a hospital is probably different than any other job you can get out there. [The hospital staff] have been thrilled to have these students at their side learning the ropes and becoming hopefully the next generation community folks that serves this hospital.”
For more information on these internship programs, click here.