By Tonia Twichell
Genesis Sanchez Ortega, right, with her supervisor Andrea
(November 2016) Chisom Agbim knew as a student at Aurora’s Hinkley High School that
she wanted to become a doctor. Now a graduate of CU School of Medicine
and a resident at Stanford University’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, she says she often thinks about the people who helped her succeed.
a cubicle covered with photos of family and friends at Children’s
Hospital Colorado, Genesis Sanchez Ortega files and sorts for a Special
Care Clinic. She’s pleased to work at a hospital where physicians who
once provided her pediatric care can see her succeed professionally.
floor down, Daniel Hitchcock works in a room crowded with medical
professionals who count on him to keep faxes moving, answer phones and
enter computer data.
All three are graduates of Children’s
Hospital Colorado Launch Programs, which identify, train and employ
community members from under-represented groups.
“We see these
programs as an opportunity to mine for great talent right in our own
back yard,” says Programs Manager Stacey Whiteside, MSW.
Medical Career Collaborative (MC²) Program
had already been volunteering at Denver area hospitals but entering
the MC² in her junior year of high school gave her the patient contact
and clinical experience she wanted.
“I think it was one of the most crucial experiences I had prior to starting my career,” she says.
began recruiting high school students interested in careers in health
care in 1999, when it partnered with Manual High School. Now accepting
students from around the metro area, the two-year program offers
hands-on experience, including paid internships, field trips, workshops,
mentorship, career guidance and other services for students from
under-represented and socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
About 600 students have gone through the program. Three hundred students
apply annually, and the 30 who are accepted are high-achieving: 100
percent graduate high school and 75 percent enter pre-health programs.
This year the program expanded to Denver Health, which accepted 20
“A more diverse workforce is a stronger workforce,”
Whiteside says, citing the Sullivan Commission Report on Diversity in
the Healthcare Workforce and other studies. “Research shows that there
are better outcomes all around when patients and families have providers
that come from their own community.”
She has seen non-English-speaking patients warm up to high school interns who speak their language.
happens with 80 percent of the students. They can say, ‘I live in your
neighborhood,’ or ‘I go to your church’ or ‘My mom is from Vietnam,
too.’ It’s so powerful to watch it happen.”
Chisom Agbim at CU School of Medicine graduation.
Continuing to hone the
program, MC² has added specific tracks for alumni pursuing health care
careers, starting with nursing, respiratory therapy, radiology
technology, laboratory science and medical interpreters. As many as a dozen tracks are expected eventually.
tracks represent large areas of our workforce,” Whiteside says. “By
pipelining students into these areas we have the chance to create teams
that better represent the demographics of the communities we serve.”
says the program is important to students who are under-represented in
health care. While in high school, some mentors encouraged her to
pursue a medical career, but others cautioned against it, saying the
training took too many years to complete.
She remembers a day
during her MC² internship when she watched emergency department
providers try to save the life of a drowning victim.
“I had been
taking the idea of what doctors do from TV, but this was a teaching
point. With that job comes a lot of responsibility, but also an
incredible amount of support from the rest of the staff. Seeing that
first-hand really taught me what being a doctor would be like.”
She has already noticed the effect an African-American doctor can have on patients and families.
“Some of them have told me that they want to go into medicine because they see someone like me and they know it’s possible.”
unexpected benefit to employing people with disabilities at Children’s
Hospital Colorado is the hope it inspires in others, Launch Programs
Coordinator Haley Couch says.
“Our internal colleagues value
these workers, but so do the families who come to our hospital,” she
says. “Some of them are struggling with a diagnosis for their child, and
then they see someone with a similar disability working and
contributing in a meaningful and constructive way. I think it gives them
Daniel Hitchcock, right, with Cecelia Ross, senior medical
assistant care coordinator.
Founded by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical
Center, Project SEARCH is a school-to work transition program for high
school students with significant physical and/or intellectual
disabilities. During the internship, which lasts an academic year,
students are immersed in the hospital, and receive both workplace and
life skills training. Many find work in clinical settings, but some have
found employment in food service, hospitality, child care and other
Of the 49 graduates since 2009, 80 percent found jobs
immediately following the program. About 35 percent have earned
positions at Children’s Hospital Colorado.
“We learned how to
keep a job, how to budget our salary, how to dress casually,” Hitchcock
says. He was surprised that training included fun activities. “We went
to a Rockies game, alumni parties, a day at Dave and Busters.”
says the training “taught me how to interview, how to ride a bus. I had
never been on a bus before. I feel confident now.”
Both say their favorite part of the experience has been meeting new people and making friends.
a great member of the team,” Andrea Loasby, operations supervisor,
says of Ortega. “We have given her more responsibility because she
always wants to learn new things.”
Senior Medical Assistant Care
Coordinator Cecelia Ross says Hitchcock is a fast worker who soon will
be trained in Epic, the software program the hospital uses to track
“He came in and just worked hard,” Ross say. “He’s a perfect fit and a real go-getter.”
Hitchcock loves his job, though he notes that the clinic office is crowded. Ross argues that makes the office better.
“There’s love in that room,” she says.