Daikiry Perez has wanted to be a nurse ever since she was a child and saw newborns in a neonatal unit. So every weekday since June 30, the 18-year-old Freedom High School student has risen early so she can make the 30-minute walk from her home to St. Luke’s University Health Network’s Bethlehem campus.
There, Daikiry has been shadowing patient care assistants as they check take temperatures, check blood pressure and answer call bells. The experience has made her more determined than ever to become a medical professional.
“When a patient tells you how grateful they are, it really makes me happy,” said a smiling Daikiry during a break on a recent Monday morning.
Daikiry is among 20 high school students who are working this summer as part of the Network’s innovative Health Career Exploration Program. The program, which concluded this month with a luncheon, is for rising seniors who live in the Allentown and Bethlehem Area School Districts and have socio-economic barriers to summer jobs.
The goal is to introduce students to careers in health care while giving them valuable job skills that will help them whether they go to post-secondary school or enter the workforce after graduation.
“St. Luke’s is very community oriented and we want the community to thrive. A way to do this is to help kids who may be stuck in a cycle,” said Jaclyn Finelli, a Network coordinator of Adolescent Career Mentoring Initiatives.
The students spent the first week in orientation where they got lessons on professional development, including employer expectations and doing job interviews. Representatives from Northampton Community College and the St. Luke’s School of Nursing talked about applying to post-secondary programs while a BB&T speaker gave a lesson on finances.
“We go over the culture of St. Luke’s, how to introduce yourself, talk to patients,” Finelli said.
Students also tour of their assigned campus, undergo CPR training and learn about job options. The next five weeks are spent working 30 hours a week in jobs that range from helping patient care assistants to working in the pharmacy and the business department.
Johnell Sloppy, 18, a Behlehem Catholic High School student, is helping patient care assistants in a medical-surgical unit at the Bethlehem campus. Johnell wants to be a registered nurse and plans on attending Northampton Community College followed by St. Luke’s School of Nursing. He was drawn to the program because he can work with patients.
“I like helping people. I like talking to new people,” he said during a recent break.
Liberty High School student Amelia Hertzog, 18, is working in the emergency department at St. Luke’s-Bethlehem. She helps ED techs, who check vital signs, draw blood for testing and administer EKGs.
“It’s fast-paced. I really like it,” said Amelia, dressed in a blue polo shirt emblazoned with the St. Luke’s logo.
The Health Career Exploration Program is among a host of St. Luke’s paid and volunteer initiatives that introduces teens and young adults to an industry sector where the demand for employees is only expected to grow as is the need for a diverse workforce. St. Luke’s runs a similar paid exploration program during the school year that targets Allentown and Bethlehem Area students who are not only economically disadvantaged but also have deficient English and math skills.
In that program, students work after school from 4-8 p.m. throughout the school year, said Diana Sanchez, a Network coordinator of Adolescent Career Mentoring Initiatives.
Sanchez said the hope is that, as adults, the teens will have better jobs and with that better health care. “One of the main components is to reach out to the community and help break through health care disparities,” she said.
The summer program is funded through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a federal program that aims to help disadvantaged families achieve self-sufficiency through jobs that pay livable wages. The students earn $10.35 an hour and are based at the Anderson, Allentown, Bethlehem and Sacred Heart campuses as well as the St. Luke’s Center.
Cindy Evans, director of youth at Workforce Board Lehigh Valley, which administers the grant, said the program gives at-risk teens valuable work experience to help build a resume.
“These teens typically don’t have the social capital to do that. This allows them to get a little experience,” Evans said.
Not only that, Victoria Montero, Network manager of St. Luke’s Health Equity Initiatives, said the program allows the teens to work alongside high-level professionals.
“We match them up with mentors so we can inspire these young students,” she said. “We are hoping that we can get them to come back to work for us.”
That’s exactly what Daikiry wants to do. After graduation from Freedom, she aims to become a patient care assistant. That will enable her to further hone her skills while she goes to Northampton Community College with a goal of attending Moravian College for her nursing degree.
“I love it. I really do,” she said.
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About St. Luke’s
Founded in 1872, St. Luke’s University Health Network (SLUHN) is a fully integrated, regional, non-profit network of more than 15,000 employees providing services at 10 hospitals and 300 outpatient sites. With annual net revenue greater than $2 billion, the Network’s service area includes 11 counties: Lehigh, Northampton, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Montgomery, Monroe, Schuylkill and Luzerne counties in Pennsylvania and Warren and Hunterdon counties in New Jersey. Dedicated to advancing medical education, St. Luke’s is the preeminent teaching hospital in central-eastern Pennsylvania. In partnership with Temple University, St. Luke’s created the Lehigh Valley’s first and only regional medical school campus. It also operates the nation’s longest continuously operating School of Nursing, established in 1884, and 34 fully accredited graduate medical educational programs with 263 residents and fellows. St. Luke’s is the only Lehigh Valley-based health care system with Medicare’s five- and four-star ratings (the highest) for quality, efficiency and patient satisfaction. St. Luke’s is both a Leapfrog Group and Healthgrades Top Hospital and a Newsweek World’s Best Hospital. In 2019, three of IBM Watson Health’s 100 Top Hospitals were St. Luke’s hospitals. St. Luke’s University Hospital has earned the 100 Top Major Teaching Hospital designation from IBM Watson Health seven times total and five years in a row. St. Luke’s has also been cited by IBM Watson Health as a 50 Top Cardiovascular Program. Utilizing the Epic electronic medical record (EMR) system for both inpatient and outpatient services, the Network is a multi-year recipient of the Most Wired award recognizing the breadth of the SLUHN’s information technology applications such as telehealth, online scheduling and online pricing information. St. Luke’s is also recognized as one of the state’s lowest cost providers.