Olney East program exposes students to health careers at Philly hospital

20100615_inq_rrxmentor15-a
Awaiting the Health Tech program graduation ceremony are (from left) Nadiyah Young, Tahira Washington, and Erica Po. The Olney East students worked at St. Christopher's.

Olney East High School freshman Nadiyah Young signed up for a mentoring program for all the wrong reasons.

Young wasn't expecting her life to be transformed when she joined Health Tech, which places high school students at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children to learn about health careers.

"I heard about this program where you get out of school on Friday and get paid for it," said Young, now a senior. "I didn't have any motivation at all."

Three years later, she's hopeful she's on a fast track to a medical career.

Now an aspiring pediatrician, Young, 18, was accepted at nine colleges this year. Four - Tuskegee University in Alabama, and in South Carolina: Benedict College, Claflin University, and Voorhees College - aggressively courted her and offered her scholarships.

She credited her success to a partnership between Olney East and St. Christopher's.

On Monday, Young was one of 14 seniors honored at the hospital.

Besides receiving certificates of completion, many students were given scholarships of $500 to $1,500 by benefactors Kal and Lucille Rudman, who have donated $357,000 to fund it. Kal Rudman - a publisher of music trade magazines, local radio legend, and philanthropist - has been a supporter of Health Tech almost since its inception.

Begun in 1994, Health Tech has helped expose 229 inner- city students to health careers. It draws from Olney East and puts students in direct contact with working doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators.

During the school year, seniors work a full eight-hour day on Fridays and up to eight additional hours through the week. Many work at the hospital over the summer.

Though competitive, Health Tech is not designed for gifted students.

"We actually go for the average student we know, given the opportunity, can excel," said program director Barbara Liccio. "There are so many programs for bright students. The average student sometimes gets lost."

Applicants must have at least a C average, have an 85 percent attendance record, and pass a drug screening and a criminal check. Once accepted, they become full employees of the hospital.

"We want them to be professional," Liccio said.

The program gets results. Liccio said 98 percent of the participating students have completed the program and 96 percent have been accepted to college.

Martin Nock, chief executive officer of Communities in Schools, a Philadelphia nonprofit dedicated to keeping students from dropping out, considers Health Tech a role model for other schools and hospitals.

"The program at St. Chris is the Rolls-Royce or the Maybach of those programs," Nock said. "There are some minor programs that a couple of other hospitals have, but nothing comes close to what's going on at St. Chris.

"It's exposure, exposure, exposure that makes the difference," Nock said. "Young people can . . . and rise to new opportunities."

Young's first duty as a sophomore was sterilizing surgical instruments for $7.25 an hour. The next year, she worked in the dialysis department. Something clicked. She learned about kidney disease. She hit it off with her mentors and discovered she had an easy rapport with the young patients.

"I thought I had a hard life," Young said, who lost her father to drug addiction and her uncle in a botched robbery. "But these kids lived a life that I had no clue about."

As she became increasingly engaged with hospital life, her grades climbed. She made the honor roll. For the first time in her life, she said, she felt driven.

This year Young had her pick of 35 departments. She chose nursing, and worked closely with her mentor, Sharon Bishop.

"That's when I decided that this is my calling," said Young, who will enter East Stroudsburg University this fall. "It's been so amazing."

 


Contact staff writer Sam Wood

at 215-854-2796 or samwood@phillynews.com.