Thrive by IU Health

July 19, 2022

Teens get a jumpstart on careers in healthcare

Teens get a jumpstart on careers in healthcare

Crispus Attucks students complete a six-week internship within IU Health as part of a community partnership.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer,

If you’re of a certain age and you think medical professionals seem to be getting younger and younger, you’re not entirely wrong.

For the past six weeks, future physicians, nurses, researchers and therapists have been rotating through departments within IU Health’s Academic Health Center in Downtown Indianapolis.

These aren’t third- or fourth-year medical students or residents. These are high school students – incoming juniors at Crispus Attucks High School, a health sciences school just a stone’s throw from the medical campus.

They are part of a bold new partnership spearheaded by IUH and Indianapolis Public Schools that gives teenagers a taste of different medical careers that they may aspire to after graduation.

The idea is to build a medical magnet curriculum and career pathway programming that benefits Crispus Attucks students, the healthcare industry and the Indianapolis community. Upon graduation and completion of the fellowship program, students will be offered a job within IU Health, as well as tuition assistance to complete a related post-secondary degree.

“It is designed to support employability skills for our students and provide them with hands-on experiences as they have declared interest in healthcare careers,” explained the Mosaic Center’s Andrea Russell, fellowship program manager.

The pilot program includes 23 students (20 female, three male) in its first cohort, who spent their sophomore year learning in the classroom, but moved into the hospital setting over the summer, rotating through multiple medical specialties in six weeks.

While students are not able to assist with patient care, they are otherwise “immersed in the organization,” Russell said, learning and growing as they go.

Chandler Harris and Aileen Reyes, both 16, spent the past two weeks shadowing clinicians at IU Health Methodist Hospital, where they learned about bedside patient care.

Kathy LeConte, shift coordinator on the renal unit at Methodist, said the idea of exposing students to healthcare careers at a young age makes sense.

“We value our students who come to learn, even these younger students,” she said. “I think it’s great, I think all high schools should do this.”

Before her clinical nurse rotation at Methodist, Aileen got to observe occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech pathologists on the job at Riley Hospital for Children in her first two-week rotation.

“I’ve been interested in physical therapy, so that was really interesting,” said the incoming junior, who received PT in the past for soccer injuries.

Her second rotation was in neuroscience research with the IU School of Medicine, which definitely sparked an interest in her.

“I liked that one because they study mice brains and work with DNA and proteins,” Aileen said.

Chandler was able to learn about ophthalmology research in astronauts and how hospital design and construction teams work with nurses to support patient care.

Both said they found the summer internship eye-opening, and it reaffirmed their plan to pursue careers in the medical field after graduation.

“I want to major in forensics, maybe be a forensics nurse,” Chandler said.

Aileen still likes the idea of becoming a physical therapist and working with athletes, but the internship showed her another possible career pathway.

“I really like research now,” she said. “I found it very interesting.”

Maritza Rodriguez-Bahena, who is interested in surgery, also found herself drawn to research after spending time shadowing team members in musculoskeletal research.

On the day we caught up with her, she and fellow junior Areli Cruz were working in the radiology department in the Riley Outpatient Center. The two spent time in the “reading room,” where radiologists read numerous X-rays, MRIs and CT scans every day.

One learning opportunity was performing an ultrasound on a chicken breast stuffed with olives (to simulate tumors).

Areli, who has thought about a career as an ultrasound technician, was also in awe of the work done in musculoskeletal research, describing how she learned about the body and its organs, including one memorable experience involving a cadaver: “I was able to carry the lungs in my bare hands.”

Maritza said the program has given her “a head start” in her medical career, something she has dreamed about for as long as she can remember. “This is helping me prepare for my future.”

Both said the opportunity to learn more about careers in healthcare has been helpful, even opening their eyes to careers related to the medical field, including grant writing, philanthropy, social media and system operations.

The students chose to attend Crispus Attucks because of its health science focus, but the fellowship program was first introduced to them in their freshman year. The application process was rigorous, involving essays, interviews, grades and more.

“It’s an amazing opportunity for them,” Russell said, adding that the internship is just one component of the broader fellowship program. Students will have two internships, an externship and “have the opportunity to really be hands-on and see what a day in the life of a healthcare worker looks like.”

Students also participate in personal development, taking courses in self-discovery, which has helped them become more self-assured as they move forward, she said. The goal is to prepare them for healthcare careers, not just as workers but as leaders.

That’s why exposing them to careers beyond the clinical side of healthcare is important, Russell said.

“From a business standpoint, we know that healthcare is all of us coming together to provide care for our patients.”

That includes research, system operations, guest relations, volunteer services, philanthropy and so much more.

“This partnership would not have been possible without donor support,” Russell said, so students who rotate through IUH Foundation understand how a gift moves from a pledge to actual purpose and fulfillment.

The first cohort is paving the way for the next class of 45 new fellows who are incoming sophomores. Another 60 students will join the program the following year. All who complete the coursework and training will earn multiple medical certifications while still in high school.

As the leading healthcare provider in the state, IU Health is uniquely positioned to support students who choose to pursue careers in the field, partnership developers said. In return for its investment, IU Health will have developed a pipeline of young people familiar with the industry who understand the culture of the organization.

Photos by Mike Dickbernd and Maureen Gilmer; video by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist,