In Chicago, Latino teens are being given an early opportunity and experience in medical fields at hospitals like the Children’s Memorial Hospital of Chicago.
Three and a half years ago, Isabel Castrejon, after taking part in the Discovering Health Care Careers program through her high school, took the chance to be a part of the Chicago GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs) Alliance. The program was designed to give Latino students exposure to various health careers.
Now a certified nursing assistant and a nursing student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Castrejon has worked three 12-hour shifts a week in Children’s ICU for the last three years. Before her current position, she worked an additional three years in the hospital’s pulmonary unit.
“I feel the program provided me with a great opportunity and opened doors for me I never thought I’d get. It’s just amazing here — to be treated by doctors and nurses like you’re family … to get to observe the operating room, ER, pathology, the morgue, even the helicopter,” said Castrejon.
Encouraging bilingual students like Isabel to consider and explore health field careers through GEAR UP has proven not only beneficial for participants, but also for the patients and families they help.
Castrejon described an moment when speaking Spanish really helped a worried mother at the hospital:
“The mother was afraid, confused. She wanted me to help her by translating … really, she just needed someone to listen to her and talk to her. It’s important for parents and patients to see a face similar to theirs and to be able to communicate.”
GEAR UP has been working with Children’s Memorial Hospital since 2001.