Leaders of youth pathways programs at Mass General Brigham don’t need to look very far to see the success of their efforts. They can simply look down their hospital corridors.
The health system provides education and training support for Boston Public School students from pre-kindergarten through grade 12 and throughout the college years.
“The true testament of the work that we do is when students start working here,” said Christy Egun, Senior Director of Boston Partnerships, Equity & Inclusion at Massachusetts General Hospital. “We have a student who’s been working here two years and recently got promoted. That is the essence of what we’re hoping to do.”
Mass General’s Youth Scholars Program, the Student Success Jobs Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and a trio of youth success programs at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital all offer program to students from the Greater Boston area, including Chelsea and Revere. These programs are aimed at stimulating interest in science, technology, engineering, and math, while also teaching good health and nutrition habits.
“We work together, checking in on each other’s programs and figuring out what works and what could be more effective. There may not always be the job opportunity at that time for alumni at our home institution, but there could be within the system. It just expands possible future job opportunities."
The proof is in the numbers: 25 of 68 program graduates now in the working world are employed in jobs within our system, ranging from research coordinator to registered nurse, according to a 7-year study of the programs at the flagship academic medical centers conducted by the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute.
But outreach begins before many children even enter school, noted Tracy Sylven, Director of Community Health and Wellness at Brigham and Women's Faulkner Hospital, which works with children in Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, West Roxbury, and Hyde Park.
“We do things like health in the classroom, getting the students to enjoy science and health and to let them recognize that there’s more to a hospital than just a nurse or a doctor. And then the students walk up to the hospital on a different day and visit that same staff in their department for a more hands-on lesson.”
As the students get older, Brigham and Women's Faulkner Hospital offers summer jobs and job shadowing opportunities in both clinical and non-clinical roles.
“That ranges from the nursing department to food service to transport to radiology,” explains Katie Plante, Brigham and Women's Faulkner Hospital Community Health and Wellness Program Coordinator.
Older students also can take part in the Mass General Hospital and Brigham and Women's Hospital programs designed to support academic and career success with an emphasis on health-related careers.
Plante said, “Our hope is to really engage and excite young people and get them to understand that science, technology, engineering, and math are relevant to their everyday lives.”
Results documented in the Donahue Institute report suggest that goals are being reached. One hundred percent of the 2019 program graduates completed high school. The study found that 84 percent of students who started college in the fall of 2012 graduated within six years.
“I believe the most important part of the program was being placed in a professional setting and being held to the same standard as everyone else who worked in the department,” a student at a Brigham and Women's Hospital program told evaluators. “Feeling treated equally and having responsibilities pushed me personally to improve my work ethics.”
“The internships I had at MGH were a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” added another student. “I watched surgeries, worked side by side with nurses, doctors, and other hospital staff. These internships were incredibly helpful for choosing career paths and for networking.”
But the programs offered more than classroom and job experience. Mentorship and home support also were crucial elements in programs where 87 percent of students were people of color, 69 percent women, 66 percent from low-income families, and 62 percent from homes where English is not the first language spoken.
“I often call us the additional family for young people because we work with our students, but we also work with the families,” said Egun. She also credits the role played by residents and fellows of color “who understand how important these pathway programs are because many of them are in the places they are because of these types of programs.”
Mentorship is a two-way street, Keenan added, telling about a focus group that was part of the Donahue Institute study, where it was clear participants felt “to be able to mentor and guide a young person powerfully affected their own positive experience of the workplace. I’ve always found that’s an important component of what we do.”
Often unspoken too is what Egun called the “ultimate equalizer. The better your education, the better your health and how long you may live. We are moving the dial from poverty to the middle class with these young people. And that makes a difference.”