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Investing in Community: Huntington Park Institute of Applied Medicine and Community Partners Are Building a Healthcare Pipeline

April 29, 2022 | Ava Marinelli

By 2030, there will be an estimated 2.6 million new jobs across the healthcare industry. With diversity and equity a top priority for many healthcare leaders, it is essential that communities build strong pipelines of highly qualified, passionate young people to enter into a wide range of medical and healthcare careers. In Huntington Park, one high school is investing in the infrastructure needed to ensure their young people are ready to join the healthcare workforce.

Huntington Park Institute of Applied Medicine (HPIAM) is a Linked Learning Gold Certified pathway at Linda Esperanza Marquez High School serving the community of Huntington Park. Part of Los Angeles County, Huntington Park is a majority-Latinx community with a large immigrant population. With Latinx workers making up only 9% of the healthcare practitioner workforce, despite representing nearly 20% of the working population nationwide, preparing Huntington Park’s young people for these careers is an urgent equity investment. “I see us as advocates for equity in the healthcare industry,” explained Brian Boyle, Work-Based Learning Coordinator & Community Partnership Liaison at HPIAM. “We're hoping to give our students so much exposure to different careers and opportunities that they understand what kinds of jobs are available in this industry and to give them an opportunity to see themselves as being part of it.”

To help ensure students get a full range of exposure to healthcare professions, HPIAM leverages industry and higher education partnerships to bring learning opportunities to life. UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine works closely with HPIAM, collaborating on opportunities across the work-based learning continuum. UCLA clinicians visit campus to speak with students about their careers, attend career days, participate in student mock interviews, provide feedback on presentations of learning, and host students for summer internships. During the summer internship, students rotate through sixteen different departments at the Ronald Reagan Medical Center, providing a variety of hands-on opportunities to apply their classroom learning to professional experiences. While students benefit from these career experiences, UCLA does as well, shared Community Engagement Program Director Gloria Moon: “Our education and workforce development efforts are a real way for us to increase diversity in our healthcare workforce,” which is a major goal of the university. HPIAM also partners with Kaiser Permanente, AltaMed, and the Community Hospital of Huntington Park to provide students with work-based learning experiences.

While HPIAM’s primary focus is Sports Medicine and Biomedical Science, there is a deep emphasis on the intersectional issues that impact healthcare. Huntington Park is home to the controversial Exide Battery Plant, a longtime air, soil, and water polluter. Students examine the impact environmental factors have on healthcare as part of an interdisciplinary project. “Because of the Exide Plant, there is contamination in the soil, in the water, in the air,” explains pathway lead Roberta Ross. “So students have a project where they take soil samples from their homes, water samples from their homes, and air samples too. They’re then able to analyze their samples and identify the contamination levels in their own homes and community.”

This project had a big impact on alumnae Marisela Gutierrez. Through her classroom project and involvement with industry partner Communities for a Better Environment, Marisela took what she learned in the classroom all the way to city hall: “I would actually go to these city hall meetings and advocate for my community. I would even ask questions to the city council members, asking what their plans were to actually protect our community.” Marisela went on to explain that the interdisciplinary projects she participated in spurred her and her classmates to act. “Those projects helped students become aware of those community issues. That is where, I think, HPIAM really stands out as a high school. We were doing these presentations, presenting this data, and I could actually remember with my group mates we were like, "Oh my gosh, this is really insane, how is this continuing? What can we do?"

For Marisela, this advocacy lens carried back over into projects focused on more traditional healthcare topics as well. When working on an essay about the importance of establishing concussion protocols for high school athletes, Marisela identified that many high schools, particularly in historically underserved communities, often lack school nurses, let alone athletic trainers to ensure these protocols are being followed. “How do we reach out to these healthcare professions to come into our communities?” she asked in her essay. This equity and advocacy lens is intentional, Roberta Ross shared: “The projects we lead don’t just teach students about their core subjects; they teach students that they can’t just accept that things are the way that they are or hope that everything is okay.”

HPIAM alumni are already contributing to the diversity of the healthcare industry. Marisela graduated University of La Verne with a degree in kinesiology and now works as a clinic assistant, and is in the process of becoming a licensed physical therapist. Another alumni, Cesar Verduzco, earned a full scholarship for UCLA’s emergency medicine technician training program after participating in the summer internship program. He is now a state licensed EMT and working to finish his undergraduate degree.

For students like Marisela and Cesar who are given opportunities to explore the healthcare field in high school, “they chase that dream, and they end up becoming healthcare professionals,” Gloria Moon finds. With nearly $2 billion proposed in the California State Budget for college and career preparation particularly in the healthcare field, there is a huge opportunity for more communities like Huntington Park to develop their own healthcare pathway program. “Investing in this type of program is important for students because it gives them the resources to really achieve college readiness. I think that's the huge part, because I think a lot of students don't know what they can achieve if they're not offered the resources,” Marisela reflected. “I see that these students are hungry, they're very tenacious, they want to achieve their goals. And when they have the resources they need, they know that their dreams, their goals, aspirations can be achieved.”