Early Exposure of Students to Health Sciences: The CHOP Urology – Cristo Rey Collaboration

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Children's Doctor

Sebastian Mota-Rodriguez Sebastian Mota-Rodriguez Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School sophomore Sebastian Mota-Rodriguez isn’t just learning science in the classroom; he’s learning it in the surgical room in the Division of Urology at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

In September 2022, Urology began a unique collaboration with Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School and is hosting 2 student interns. As a college preparatory school with a unique operating model, Cristo Rey has students spending 1 day a week in work-study roles at premier businesses and nonprofits across the greater Philadelphia area.

The school believes the model is a win-win for Philadelphia area youth and employers who want to invest in both education and the talent pipeline in Philadelphia. The school’s original vision and purpose of the model was to provide access to a quality college preparatory education to underserved students with the work-study program offsetting the cost of tuition at Cristo Rey. However, implementation of the model garnered more profound results than the school ever could have anticipated: The students, ages 14 to 17 years old, have the opportunity to explore career pathways, build the transferable workplace skills that will posture them for success in the future, and create their own professional networks. The exposure is powerful for all involved.

Guidance and role modeling

Mataya Dileo Mataya Dileo Sebastian and his Cristo Rey colleague, Mataya Dileo, are learning the ins and outs of the services Urology provides for patients while contributing to the critical operations of the division. Under the supervision of Thomas Kolon, MD, Acting Chief of Urology, and division staff, a typical day for Sebastian and Mataya involves greeting patients, directing them to their rooms, preparing rooms for surgery, transporting tools and supplies, and assisting nurses with temperature and blood pressure checks.

With a sense of pride Mataya reflects, “I was nervous and scared at first to work at such a big hospital, but the Urology team kept telling me that it is OK to ask questions and that everyone is learning together. I’ve also learned a lot about leadership through talking to and observing Dr. Kolon. I’ve learned that great leaders are also always learning and helping and guiding the team.”

Mataya was already interested in pursuing a career in medicine, but her experience at CHOP has helped her narrow her focus to pediatrics. The experience has helped her understand she’d like to work specifically with children.

Sebastian’s favorite part about the job is his interactions with the patients. “Every Tuesday, I’m excited to wake up and go to CHOP because I get to see my co-workers and help the patients,” says Sebastian. “I’ve learned how to make the children that come to Urology feel comfortable when they arrive. I always greet them with a smile, I carry stickers in my pocket, and I am aware of my body language. I make sure I am bringing a positive attitude to the space.”

As far as the many skills Sebastian and Mataya believe that they have honed over the past few months at CHOP, at the forefront are communication, time management, attention to detail, and taking initiative.

Thomas Kolon, MD Thomas Kolon, MD Kolon recognizes the importance of this early exposure. “In pediatric urology, we are somewhat far down the medicine specialty pipeline, but I am convinced that if we expose all students early to the health sciences, then we can pique their interest,” he says. “URIM (underrepresented in medicine) numbers will increase over the years, no matter what the specialty. Getting students excited about health careers and understanding that these careers are possible for all is crucial. Our initial foray into our Cristo Rey relationship this year has been very successful. The students are very excited and work hard. It’s a win-win.”

CHOP: A founding partner

Since the school opened in 2012, more than 50 Cristo Rey students have interned at CHOP, a founding partner, through the work-study program. Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School has a current enrollment of 540 students; 64% of the student body identifies as Black/African American, and 30% identifies as Hispanic/Latino. The school is situated in the Tioga neighborhood of North Philadelphia and serves students from all over Philadelphia as well as Camden, New Jersey. One hundred percent of Cristo Rey graduates have been accepted to college, and 68% of Cristo Rey alumni are persisting in college compared to the national rate of 21% for their socioeconomic peers.

Cristo Rey alumni Junior Nguyen went on to graduate from Haverford College. For 2 years of his high school work-study placement, he worked at CHOP, where he received a range of experiences. Nguyen’s exposure and experience came full circle after he graduated from Haverford College when he was offered the position of research technician at CHOP. Some of the first people he shared the good news with were his former co-workers at CHOP who knew him as a high school student.

At both CHOP and Cristo Rey, students learn the power and value of relationships and building their networks. Relationships are the most powerful ingredient to achieving the school’s mission to “nurture and challenge young people to recognize and realize their full potential.” Cristo Rey is able to fulfill this mission only because of a unique set of stakeholders who all believe in the school’s mission and step up and play a critical role. In Sebastian’s and Mataya’s case, these stakeholders include the CHOP Urology team.

Joanna Wusinich, Esq., is Vice President of the Work-Study Program and Strategic Growth at Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School.

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