Writing Prescriptions for Success

Eastern High School HMSA Students Intern at MedStar Hospital

Students in Eastern High School’s Health and Medical Sciences Academy participate in a mock birth at MedStar Hospital in the summer of 2016. Photo: Joe Weedon

Helping at a 2016 summer camp for disabled children, Eastern High School student Kaheri Gyenyame, a senior and Ward 4 resident, realized doctors and nurses make up only part of the career options in the medical field. Gyenyame traveled with hospital staff and worked with children as a part of her six-week internship through MedStar Health’s Prescription for Success partnership program with Georgetown University Hospital and Eastern High School’s Health and Medical Science’s Academy (HMSA). Philanthropic investment group Companies for Causes coordinated the program.

Gyenyame and 11 other HMSA students interned 20 to 25 hours a week, a paid position through DC’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). They spent their time observing the doctors, nurses, and other medical staff, as well as attending workshops on professional development such as resume writing and interview and college preparedness training.

At the camp for disabled children, Gyenyame watched as physical therapists, counselors, and other staff showed the children how to play the same sports she plays with her own friends. She plans to study medicine and go into pediatrics, and seeing the variety of expert roles needed to care for the whole child showed her a range of future career options. “I knew it would be an insightful and hands-on experience,” Gyenyame said of the program.

Opening the Door to Multiple Medical Careers

Students hoping to pursue a career in medicine often list doctor or nurse as their desired profession, said HMSA coordinator and Eastern teacher Wesley McCammon. He hopes more of his students will explore lesser-known medical positions as the internship program continues to grow. “Look at all the possibilities,” he said. “You don’t have to be a doctor to work with a patient.”

Both the MedStar internship and McCammon’s class at Eastern show students a diversity of opportunities. The HMSA program at Eastern offers interested students four courses over their four years in high school to explore the medical sciences and emergency medical technician (EMT) services. Through research and projects, each student earns the chance to prepare for a future degree in medicine.

McCammon views the addition of the internship as a capstone for his students. Unlike science-fair projects or assignments that may have parents helping students more than intended, this program puts the students in a position of professional responsibility for their program at the hospital and for their own education. “I wanted this to be something for the kids to do for themselves,” McCammon said.

Offering Job Readiness Skills Too

Knakiya Wheaton, a junior at Eastern High and a Ward 7 resident, wants to pursue a career as a registered nurse. As a student in McCammon’s HMSA class, she observed the physical and occupational therapy departments at Georgetown Hospital during her internship. She said she appreciated the chance to see the many staffers who help get patients back on their feet. But she also valued the workshops and skills training she received to prepare for applying to college and a job in the future. “The skills you need for your resume, they helped you on that,” Wheaton said.

Navigating her own commute to a job during the summer program also taught her the importance of professionalism, responsibility, and prioritizing her work. She learned how to properly communicate with potential employers and colleagues through interviews for the program, while working with medical staff and through the workshops. She hopes to apply to Virginia State University next year and will use her writing, resume, and interview skills to get there.

Joe Weedon, the Ward 6 DC State Board of Education representative and executive director at Companies for Causes, helped launch this program with MedStar and Eastern. MedStar’s Prescription for Success program has run for a decade in Baltimore, and Weedon helped bring this iteration to DC in 2016. Weedon touts the program as more than a chance for students to observe: it gives them a hands-on idea. “It’s important for students to know there is a career pathway,” Weedon said. “My goal is to expose students to the pathways that get them where they dream to be.”

Giving MedStar Staff a Community Perspective

MedStar and Georgetown hospital staff give the students a chance to explore, but the staff also gain perspectives in return, said Emeobong Martin, MedStar’s regional community health director. “This is an opportunity to build relationships but also to truly improve our mission for helping our communities,” Martin said. “Moving the needle on improving health outcomes, that really goes beyond the four walls of our hospital.”

If the hospital can help educate or show students what they can achieve in their own city, that feeds the pipeline for future medical professionals in the District, she said. It helps the hospital staff become productive members of their community.

And it shows the students that doctors aren’t the only people who treat patients. “It helps provide them with an experience on how to have an impact on someone’s life beyond just the medical encounter,” Martin said, explaining that it takes more than medicine to heal and help a community.

Some students may not like the idea of handling blood and guts, but that doesn’t mean they can’t enter into medicine. “It’s excellent to be a doctor,” she said. “But perhaps there are other ways you might be able to make an impact that better fits your skills or your personality.”

That’s how Gyenyame feels. She knows she wants to work with children, but now she has a better understanding of her options in the pediatrics field. Whatever she chooses to study, she knows her true passion. “I feel I connect to kids because I’m a kid at heart,” Gyenyame said.

Growing the Program

Eastern and MedStar will accept 10 to 15 students in 2017, Weedon said. Both Weedon and Martin said they hope to expand that number in future summers. MedStar also wants to take students through the hospitals earlier in the application process in order to understand their interests and find better fits for each. “I think it’s a tremendous partnership for Eastern and the neighborhoods,” Weedon said.

McCammon said he wants to build the internship as he has built the HMSA program, to become competitive and give students an advantage after graduation. Whether they want to pursue a degree or a job at departments like the DC fire and emergency medical services, they will walk out equipped with both an education and work experience.

The 2017 internship program will begin accepting applications in January through March or April. Weedon said they’re finalizing the dates. Every applicant will receive an interview in May. The 2017 program, which starts in June, will offer four days of observation at the assigned hospital and one day of professional development for the six weeks.

“It’s not just a work experience,” Weedon said. “It’s also that networking and that professional experience.” 


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