Brandon Koch and Becca Taney.
Becca Taney has an unusual way of spending her after-school hours. She doesn’t hang out with friends; nor does she attend school events at Freedom High School like other kids her age.
Instead, the 17-year-old high-school senior heads over to St. Luke’s Bethlehem Campus to work in its ER. She wheels patients up to nursing units. She takes vital signs. She even helps nurses hook patients with chest pain up to EKG machines and perform the diagnostic test on them to see if they’re having a heart attack.
Not far from the ER, Brandon Koch is cleaning heat and air conditioning handlers on a patient care unit to ready them for cooling season. At age 18 and a senior in high school, this maintenance mechanic intern is getting his hands dirty and picking up marketable skills as he prepares for work life after high school.
Taney, of Bethlehem Township, and Koch, of Northampton, are among the select students from area high schools and Bethlehem Area Vo-Tech School (BAVTS) who are enrolled in St. Luke’s new Vo-Tech Co-Op Program, learning on the job while getting paid. This win-win arrangement with the school districts, in place since last December, gives aspiring teens a chance to work in a field they’ve identified as a potential profession.
The Vo-Tech Co-Op Program bolsters St. Luke’s supply of top-notch employees who hopefully will stay at the hospital or return there after college, or other training, for higher-skilled positions to fill hard-to-recruit roles, says Georgina Winfield, the Network’s Director of Volunteer Services and Student Relations.
“This collaboration allows students to complete additional competencies coordinated between the hospital and school,” says Connie Muschko, BAVTS School-to-Career coordinator. “With both organizations supporting student engagement in the classroom and hospital, they enter the workforce in an advanced position due to their involvement in this wonderful, educational experience.”
The ER is a perfect fit for Taney. “This is my future career as a nurse,” she says, smiling, confident and personable. “There’s so much you get to see and learn here, something every day.” She plans to study nursing at DeSales University next year.
The students spend some four hours on each, or several, weekdays, practicing the skills while getting to know the people and places throughout the hospital. There’s so much to learn, but you can tell they’re up to the task.
Students like Taney take the Health Careers course at vo-tech, says Winfield, then “they put it into practice at SLUHN with help and encouragement from the nurses and administrators on the units where they’re assigned.”
Koch has been learning masonry at BAVTS. He is enthused about working and learning at St. Luke’s, which could become a career.
Art Steward, plant operations supervisor, says people like Koch are key to keeping the hospital running smoothly. He should know: he graduated from BAVTS and has worked at St. Luke’s for 41 years and is planning to retire in the next two years. Other long-time engineering staff have the same plans to step away from their careers soon, so the need for replacements is high.
But Steward brims with optimism that these youngsters will be able to continue in the able shoes of the 50 “zone mechanics” St. Luke’s employs. During the course of a workday, they might do plumbing, carpentry, painting, electricity and more with guidance from Steward or zone mechanics Jose Mangual or Frank Miravich.
“They’re doing great, learning quickly and using good communication and customer service skills,” says Steward.
Taney’s supervisor/mentor, emergency department director Matt Weintraub, MSN, MBA, is delighted with her attitude, aptitude and interpersonal skills.
“She’s special, energetic, fantastic,” he declares. “She learns quickly, like a sponge.”
Taney has been part of the Vo-Tech Co-Op Program only two months, but, she’s already been invited to watch how a patient’s irregular heartbeat is corrected with a shock. She has been in the trauma OR to witness how seriously injured patients are resuscitated.
“The opportunities afforded to the students are second to none,” says Jenifer Stilgenbauer, RN, BSN, BAVTS Health Careers instructor. “They are getting real-world experiences in their chosen field while getting paid, and they help filling openings at the hospital. Current and future students at BAVTS can see where a technical education can take them, too.”
Says Winfield: “We bring them in and hope to eventually hire them. They can stay on here right after graduation or during college if they want. … They get a foot in the door here, and that may turn into a career.”