Club Hopes to Inspire Teens for Future in Healthcare
Dec 12, 2023
Stephanie Breitbart
Exterior of high school building with electronic signage in center, tree to the left and iron gate in front

In the heart of Sacramento, Health Professions High School stands as a unique institution. Students don scrubs as their daily attire, symbolizing their deep-seated interest in healthcare. With a student body of 200, it’s clear this school is more than just a place of learning. It’s a hub dedicated to immersing students in the intricacies of the medical field.

To further ignite the teens’ passion for healthcare, a recently launched afterschool club, El Corazón De La Salud (which translates into “The Heart of Health”) provides them a new dynamic platform.  Nicknamed El Cor, the program’s mission is to educate students about the broader healthcare landscape. Students can have interactive discussions and hands-on experiences with healthcare experts, covering topics ranging from physical therapy to cardiovascular health. The club is also sponsored with the help of Sutter Health and led by Samuel Merritt University.

Yu Zhou, college and career information technician at Health Professions High School, emphasizes that El Cor complements the students’ in-school learning by offering a unique space for them to explore their personal perception of the medical field.

“It makes a big difference to have actual professionals from within the medial field talking with the students, teaching them new skills and sharing real-life experiences,” she says.

Investing in Future Generations

Caucasian woman in royal purple blouse looking at camera with brick ledge and greenery in the background

Alice Vestergaard

Alice Vestergaard, assistant professor at Samuel Merritt University and El Cor program co-developer, says the mission of El Cor is to educate students early on about diverse opportunities in healthcare.

“We want to plant seeds for future career choices, promote diversity in the healthcare workforce, and instill the importance of setting smart goals for personal and professional growth,” she says.

Surani Kwan, Sutter’s director for Professional Practice and Nursing Excellence, emphasizes the program’s role in exciting kids about healthcare from an early age.

Smiling woman with dark, bob-style hair and black blouse poses with brick ledge and greenery in background

Surani Kwan

“El Cor goes beyond the traditional roles of doctors or nurses; it encourages students to explore the vast landscape of healthcare professions, including roles behind the scenes,” she explains. The club’s monthly meetings feature professionals from various healthcare disciplines, offering a holistic view of the industry.

Health Professions High School proudly boasts a diverse student population. Recognizing the importance of representation, Vestergaard notes that it’s critical for these students to see themselves in the healthcare field, as it provides them with hope and a sense of possibility. The monthly El Cor meetings actively address this need, highlighting diverse professionals who serve as role models for the students.

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Tosin Okon

One such professional is Olutosin (Tosin) Okon, a physical therapist at Sutter Roseville Medical Center, who recently led the program’s first monthly meeting. Okon shared insights into biomechanics and educated students on the different roles of physical therapists.

“I was able to help show them how the study of movement can impact every aspect of life,” she says. “They were not aware of what physical therapy does, but they were very engaged. It was really fun to interact, do some exercises and offer them advice to help further their careers.”

A Sutter Connection and Plans to Expand

Irene Arroyo-Romero, the inaugural candidate for the Sutter Health & Samuel Merritt University Health Equity Nursing Fellowship, played a pivotal role in initiating El Cor at Soledad High School in Monterey County. Arroyo-Romero proposed the idea for the after-school health club as part of her master’s project at Samuel Merritt University’s Doctor of Nurse Practitioner program. She, along with Vestergaard, co-developed the program and curriculum for El Cor.

Irene Arroyo-Romero, MSN-FNP, is the inaugural candidate for the Sutter Health & Samuel Merritt University Health Equity Nursing Fellowship.

Irene Arroyo-Romero

Now in its third year at Soledad, the program expanded this year to Health Professions High School in Sacramento, thanks to the collaborative efforts of Arroyo-Romero, Vestergaard and their connections. Arroyo-Romero continues to provide support and curriculum development for El Cor at Soledad High School.

Reflecting on her journey, Arroyo-Romero shares, “my journey to where I’m at in my career hasn’t been easy. El Cor is a program I wish I had exposure to at an early age, and it’s an amazing feeling to see the progress at Soledad High School.” She adds, “I’m excited the program continues to grow, and I hope it reaches many underserved communities where students can have the opportunity to explore healthcare career options early on and develop the confidence that will help them overcome any obstacles they may face throughout their journey.”

Celebrating the Students

In May, El Cor will hold a completion ceremony to celebrate students’ achievements, showcasing a mini health fair where they share their newfound knowledge with families and friends.

“This is a really big deal for these kids, and we want them to feel honored that they committed to attending these meetings,” says Vestergaard. “We want them to understand the value of their education and their futures.”

In alignment with Sutter’s mission to meet the healthcare needs of the communities it serves, collaborations like this with Samuel Merritt University and involvement in programs like El Cor demonstrate Sutter’s commitment to investing in today’s youth.

“The goal is not just to build a pipeline of future health professionals, but to reach diverse populations, instill hope, and pave the way for a promising future,” says Kwan.

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