Internships Drive Diversity in Health Care

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KP LAUNCH, the Kaiser Permanente Northern California high school and college internship program, is expanding its college cohort as part of its mission to increase diversity in health care. Pictured, Nate Aguirre, left, a summer intern based at the Modesto Medical Center, with his mentor and KP LAUNCH Central Valley program leader, Geoffrey Gamble.

Macey Garcia, 18, at left, is a summer intern in the women’s health clinic at Point West Medical Offices in Sacramento. At right is Justea Blakely, who oversees Sacramento’s internship program.

Macey Garcia is an 18-year-old sophomore studying neurobiology in a pre-med track at UC Davis. She also is the daughter of a teen mom and the first in her family of six to attend college.

Nate Aguirre, 23, just graduated from California State University Stanislaus with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He is Mexican American and was raised primarily by his mother, with help from uncles and his grandfather who served as male role models.

Gagandeep Dosanjh, 22, also just graduated from California State University Stanislaus with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Her parents emigrated from India, and she speaks three languages.

The trio are shining examples of the talent in this year’s KP LAUNCH, Kaiser Permanente Northern California’s summer job program currently undertaking a massive expansion to help increase diversity in health care.

Cultivating a culturally and ethnically diverse cohort and recruiting more men of color are central goals of the expansion, said KP LAUNCH Program Manager Felicia Duncan.

“There is a shortage of diverse workers in health care, and definitely a shortage of men of color,” Duncan said. “We are trying to increase the numbers of African American, Hispanic and Pacific Islander men in our program who are thinking about a career in health care.”

Adding Interns Across Northern California

Gagandeep Dosanjh, 22, is a summer intern in the Fresno Medical Center Human Resources Department.

The program, in its 51st year, has boosted its ranks of college interns 297% over the last five years from 31 to 92, with plans to add at least 130 more in the next five years. It also is expanding geographically from its base in Oakland, adding promising college interns in Sacramento, Roseville, South Sacramento, the Central Valley and Fresno.

The high school program currently has about 225 interns, Duncan said.

The eight-week college internships pay $18 to $24 an hour while high school students make minimum wage. This year the ever-popular program received 3,300 applications for 318 positions. Interns submit an application and a personal statement as part of the selection process.

While interns such as Garcia have their eyes on clinical careers, Duncan said many students discover a variety of other opportunities.

“Students often think about becoming doctors, nurses or pharmacists, but they don’t think about Kaiser Permanente as a place to work in finance, IT or marketing,” Duncan said. “We are trying to broaden that perspective.”

Finding Inspiration

This summer, Garcia is working in a women’s health clinic at Point West Medical Offices in Sacramento while Dosanjh is working in the Fresno Medical Center Human Resources Department as the KP LAUNCH high school program coordinator. A returning intern, Aguirre works on projects that better member experiences, such as decreasing wait times at pharmacies. He credits Kaiser Permanente mentors, including Central Valley KP LAUNCH Program Leader Geoffrey Gamble, with helping him get through high school and college.

“It felt like there was always just too much to carry, too much on my plate,” Aguirre said. “But they taught me how to focus and be in the moment, and that got me through. I look back and say my life would not be as wonderful as it is today if it were not for this program.”

Garcia is no stranger to adversity, with a childhood consumed by major health problems and family struggles. She also credits her Kaiser Permanente mentors, including Linda Lee, MD, with her decision to enter the pre-med track at UC Davis.

“I got to shadow Dr. Lee in gastroenterology, and one day she asked if I’d like to observe a colonoscopy with the patient’s consent,” Garcia said. “She showed me the inside of a human body, and then she told me about how Kaiser enhances patients’ lives. The practitioners are so selfless. I don’t think I would have gone to UC Davis and chosen such a hard major if it had not been for her.”

To find out more about the program and how to get involved, check out the web site.

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