Our Workforce Development Program's Impact Karen Melendez, Healthcare Workforce Development Intern

Karen Melendez is a 24-year-old Chicano studies major at California State University, Northridge (CSUN). She commutes to school from the El Sereno neighborhood of East Los Angeles, four miles northeast of Adventist Health White Memorial, where she was born and has volunteered since August 2022 with the Healthcare Workforce Development Program. “I’m a pre-med student studying to take my MCAT and apply to medical school,” Melendez says. “My dream is to become a forensic pathologist.” Melendez possesses a big, warm, disarming smile and holds strong eye contact when speaking. Her voice is both mature and full of youthful optimism. And after one conversation with her, it’s obvious that one day she will be a fantastic doctor.

The Healthcare Workforce Development Program was created in 2006 with a generous $1 million grant from Bank of America. Their sustained support over the years, amounting to over $2 million, has enabled the program to provide over 2,000 high school and college students (ages 15 ½ -25) with hands-on hospital experience and workforce development skills, such as resume building and interview preparation. As a result, 80% of program alums have secured healthcare-related jobs.

“I didn’t have a lot of mentors in my life,” Melendez responds when asked about the program and Program Manager Alicia Román. “Thankfully, I met Alicia, who was really awesome and helpful to work with. From then, I was able to meet and network with so many new people here, surgeons, child development specialists, pediatricians. It’s become a great thing.”

Melendez will graduate from CSUN in the spring of 2024. Preparing for that momentous occasion, she chose to get her phlebotomy license last June, hoping to get a job at Adventist Health White Memorial by graduation. However, this seemingly beneficial, focused decision almost cornered her into making an exceedingly difficult and unfair economic choice.

Unable to afford the $2,000 price tag on her phlebotomy course, Melendez had no choice but to secure a loan. This decision meant she would eventually give up her volunteer work for a paying job, which could hurt her medical school application. Melendez’s socio-economic background forced her to choose between her immediate income needs and her long-term professional development.

“I was getting my phlebotomy license, I needed money and I was going back to school,” Melendez says. “I didn’t know what to do, but I didn’t want to leave White Memorial because I really have a huge connection to this hospital and the people here.”

Yet, that same month, unbeknownst to Melendez, Bank of America made another significant investment in the Healthcare Workforce Development Program by awarding a $70,000 economic mobility grant to fund the new Healthcare Workforce Development Paid Stipend Internship.

Internships will be offered to 75 youths—5 different cohorts of 15 interns—on a staggered timeline throughout the year. Interns will volunteer in various departments and shadow Adventist Health White Memorial employees 10-12 hours per week, three days a week, for a total of 100 hours (approximately three months) and receive a $1,000 stipend.

Guided by Román, Melendez seized this opportunity. “Once the stipend happened, it was like my prayers were answered,“ Melendez shares. “I finished phlebotomy school and started as an intern. So once I get paid here, I’ll be able to pay for that class. Nice.”

Bank of America is committed to building a sustainable healthcare workforce to benefit East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights. “It’s imperative that people from under-resourced communities have the training and access to high-demand and well-paying careers,” says Ray Vasquez, business banking executive, Bank of America. “White Memorial’s Healthcare Workforce Development Program continues to provide important career pathways in the health-related fields that we all rely on for personal and economic health. Bank of America is so proud to play a part in this incredible program,” shares Raul Bustillos, Senior Vice President, Community Relations at Bank of America.

Thanks to Bank of America’s steadfast support, you can still find Melendez helping in the pediatric care unit or providing customer care to our patients and staff at the Ambassador Information Desk. On Fridays, she shadows pediatric surgeon Dr. Faisal Azam Ali Khan in the operating room.

“Santo que no es visto, santo que no es adorado,” Melendez replies when asked about the full benefits of the paid stipends. “A saint that isn’t seen is a saint that’s not adored. Because I’m here so much more time, people get to know me, they see my face, and they recognize me. When they see me, it’s Kaaaaaren the intern, or she did this for me, or she’s really good with this. I really take my time to make interpersonal relationships with everyone here.” Melendez continued, “I’ll be at White Memorial until I get into med school. Everyone made me feel welcome, and I speak Spanish here. I feel closer to my community. Sincerely.”

To learn more about or apply for the Healthcare Workforce Development Program, please visit the webpage.

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