For more than 30 years the Youth Apprentice Program (YAP) has successfully introduced high school students to careers in the health industry – and experts say it’s more important now than ever.
“As crime and violence involving adolescents is on the upswing, programs like YAP provide students with an alternative path forward,” said Kenneth Frazier, who serves as the program director of YAP. “Students can see that you don’t necessarily need to go to school for an additional 12 years to become a health care professional. Students learn that you can become a nurse, a respiratory therapist or a radiology technologist within two to three years. And they see that they can contribute to society while making a good living.”
More than 600 students have participated in YAP, and every student has graduated from high school. YAP students come exclusively from the Rochester City School District, charter schools and the Urban-Suburban Program.
Besides gaining work experience, they receive mentoring, excel in academics and are encouraged to volunteer. Their experience is also enriched by learning from a variety of experts who teach everything from money management to starting a career in surgery.
As part of the program, YAP students:
“For 30 years, I’ve seen students walk in on their first day of the Youth Apprentice Program only knowing about the roles of nurses and doctors – and I’ve seen them graduate with the understanding that there are many, many career options in health care,” said Rick Constantino, MD, co-founder of YAP. “Perhaps, even more importantly, I’ve witnessed them graduate with the confidence that they can succeed in those health care careers.”
As successful as YAP has been, it couldn’t escape some changes during the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of students was reduced, and students were not as able to move freely from one department to the next.
“Still, the students who are in the program – with everything they learned or heard about regarding COVID – they want to be part of health care more than ever,” Frazier said. “They want to understand what health care is all about. They want to see if they can make a difference beyond high school.”
Thanks to generous support from donors, the students in YAP continue to learn and gain work experience.
“The money we receive from donors helps pay the students for their work,” Frazier said. “Many live in some of the poorest ZIP codes, and their paychecks contribute to the household budget. Some of the students are able to use their paychecks to save for college tuition or for their first car or for a prom dress.”
“Every donation helps,” Frazier added. “It provides for today and prepares students for the future.”
One of those students, Jeremiah Kirkland, is now president and COO at Good Samaritan Hospital at Evendale.
“The Youth Apprentice Program gave me my start in health care and helped me believe that I could lead in a health system even though I didn’t see many African-American leaders or clinicians at the time. Now, I look back 20 years later as a leader in a large health system, and I credit the program for much of my success,” Kirkland said. “This program works, and this program will change lives. I am living proof.”
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