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City Heights High Schoolers Are Prepping To Become Your Next Doctor

February 04, 2019 | Tarryn Mento

Photo by Tarryn Mento

Dressed in royal purple scrubs, nurse Whitney Abutin prepared for her rounds at Rady Children's Hospital. She sanitized her hands, squeezed on lilac disposable gloves, and on this particular week day, narrated her every move to high school senior Yadira Calderón, who was following closely behind her.

Calderón watched as Abutin visited a sick patient and checked his vital signs. It was one of several shadowing experiences she received through the hospital's health career program.

The Faces for the Future program provides in-the-field learning for students from several underserved communities in the United States, including San Diego's City Heights neighborhood. It aims to spark their interest in a health care career to help them land a good-paying gig and address future workforce needs.

Mary Beth Moran, who oversees the Faces program in San Diego, said its wellness education and career preparation help overcome poor health factors that often plague communities of low socioeconomic status.

"By educating these kids particularly in the health care profession not only provides them a means to go for a degree in health, but also increases their knowledge of health to help themselves and their well being now," Moran said.

It also serves the industry by growing the pool of medical professionals — the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a shortage of up to 120,000 medical professionals by 2030 — and ensuring workers are as diverse as the population they serve.

"The demographics of our country are changing, and with the Affordable Care Act, more and more people can access health care and we want to make sure we’re providing culturally and linguistically appropriate care for that population," Moran said.

Faces for the Future alum Wendy Mejia is just one example. The bilingual speaker and 2011 high school graduate is now working for the hospital’s Center for Healthier Communities. She works on injury prevention with Spanish-speaking parents at National City schools.

Mejia said the program introduced her to a variety of opportunities in the health care field and taught her what she did and didn’t like.

"When I was first doing my rotations, what I learned then was I wasn’t good with interacting with patients that were severely sick. It really hit a spot that I wasn’t comfortable with," Mejia said.

Now her job is to help keep kids out of the hospital in the first place.

Current program participant Calderón, who shadowed Abutin, learned her role is within a medical center. The Hoover High School senior will graduate in June and, like many of the program’s participants, she’ll be the first in her family to go on to higher education.

Listen to the radio story from KPBS.