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High school mentorship programs prepare next generation of medical professionals

Mentors and student mentees for the Kaiser Mental Health Mentorship Program celebrate the end of the program in the library of Dozier-Libbey Medical High School in Antioch on May 22. Photo courtesy of Kendra Ebinger, program coordinator for Dozier-Libbey Medical High School.

If trends and statistics hold true, medical scrubs soon will be commonplace for many American workers.

Health care occupations are expected to soar higher than average for all other occupations from 2022 to 2032, with 1.8 million openings on average per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

This means some young aspiring medical students – still attending Bay Area high schools – will begin incorporating the comfortable fitting scrubs into their wardrobe at a younger age as they shadow medical professionals in the field. And there are several programs targeting these young hopefuls, which will have them do just that.

KP Launch, created by Kaiser Permanente, offers in-depth experiences for both high schoolers and college students to explore not just medical careers, but also “non-medical” careers in this field, gain job skills and more. These interns meet in Oakland and work during the summer from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and are able to choose which medical field to study. They also work with industry professionals for their specific field of interest, engaging in hands-on work much similar to that in entry-level health care positions. Students are compensated for $21-$25 an hour.

Brianna Navarro, a student at Dozier-Libbey Medical High School in Antioch, said she wasn’t able to work outside the classroom in her field until KP Launch. 

“They would (sic) provide me with skills that will make me more successful in future job experiences,” the 11th grader said, encouraging others to apply. “You have nothing to lose by applying, but everything to gain.”

Another immersive program like KP Launch is Contra Costa County Health Careers Pathway (HCP), which goes beyond career exploration to community outreach. 

Dozier 11th grader Dayana Garcia has aspirations to be a dermatologist. She said the program pairs students with mentors and works collaboratively on a final project addressing a specific health issue within the community. It culminates in a presentation to the community and health care professionals.

HCP also allows students like Garcia to shadow doctors specializing in the areas of their chosen fields.

“Internships are incredibly valuable; they enhance your resume and are highly regarded by colleges,” Garcia said. “They provide real-world experience and networking opportunities that are indispensable for your future career in medicine.”

If students prefer a one-on-one experience in the mental health field, the Kaiser Mental Health Mentorship Program may be of interest. Students team up with a mentor, a medical student in psychology or a seasoned specialist for five months. It takes place mostly over Zoom calls, where they connect for one hour every week to learn the in-depths of the mental health field on topics like diagnosis, how one can obtain a master’s degree, and more.

Elijah Shirley, who took part in the program as an Dozier-Libbey 11th grader, is interested in biochemistry.

“The field has been a part of my life for a long time now,” Shirley said. “In this program, it allows me to not only learn life skills and how to get into the field of mental health, but what options I have. You get to learn about the complexities and the intricacies of the field as a whole. 

“Programs like the Mental Health Mentorship give students the ability to learn and comprehend the field in ways a classroom could never,” Shirley added.

Kendra Ebinger, Work Based Learning Coordinator for Antioch Unified School District, said she feels the impact of such programs.

“These programs ensure that students not only acquire the necessary skills and knowledge, but also develop the mindset and attributes essential for successful careers in medicine,” Ebinger said. “By bridging the gap between academic learning and real-world practice, these programs play a vital role in shaping competent, compassionate and well-prepared health care providers.”

Thanks to these and similar programs, the future promises to look bright for aspiring high schoolers in the medical field.  

*Additional resources: 

The HCP Program: Health Career Pathways | Contra Costa Health

KP Launch Program:  

More on KP Launch: A Comprehensive Guide to the KP Launch High School Internship 

Kaiser Mental Health Mentorship Program: Inspiring future mental health professionals – Kaiser Permanente Look inside KP Northern California 

The Outlook on Health Care Occupations in the US: Occupational Outlook Handbook > Healthcare 

Sophia Goyena will be a 12th grader at Dozier-Libbey Medical High School in Antioch.

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