Two stark realities existed as the impetus for the creation of the UCLA Allied Healthcare Careers Programs.
On the one hand, UCLA Health laboratory technicians’ average age is over 60, and California is projected to have a major workforce shortage in the area, despite a rapidly aging population that will lean on the system more than ever.
On the other hand, there are pockets of Los Angeles being neglected when it comes to higher wage workforce training. For example, Service Planning Area 6, more generally known as South Los Angeles, is known for high rates of unemployment among young people.
“UCLA and UCLA Health are these amazing assets and we have learned that high school students roughly 10 miles from here have no idea that they could have a meaningful job in the Allied Health Professions,” said Dr. Carol Mangione, director of the program. “The I-10 Freeway is sort of like the Berlin Wall, and the idea of working at UCLA Health just isn’t on their radar screen. A big part of this program is breaking open their world view.”
Enter UCLA Allied Healthcare Careers Program, an effort to go into high schools across Los Angeles, primarily in underrepresented areas, and show the students there what’s possible in health fields —possibilities that often don’t even take a full four years of college.
“This program is acknowledging that there is a proportion of graduating seniors who for one reason or another are not going to be immediately bound to four-year colleges,” Mangione said. “We do want to acknowledge that there is a proportion of the class that may need a year or more in an allied health profession to see if they want to continue on in that career or use it as a stepping stone to pursue a career that requires a four year college degree .”
The success of the program has worked at an accelerated pace since its inception in 2013. Members of the community engagement program, accompanied by UCLA Health employees who work in the allied health professions have visited with over 28,074 high school students in 41 schools and community organizations across all regions of Los Angeles. And as a result of that success, the program will be awarded this year’s UCLA Catalyst Community Program of the Year award.
“Before seeing our program, many of these students never had dreamed that there could be a job in the health professions where they could work for the University of California, have health insurance, and be paying into a pension,” Mangione said. “For some students these jobs will be a first step for a career in health care and for others it could be a stepping stone to college in a few years.”
Nearly 60 percent of the healthcare workforce is considered allied health professions: medical assistants, medical technologists, pharmacy technicians, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and phlebotomists, to name several examples.
Many of these professions are more within reach than anybody thinks, Mangione added, and that is a major crux of the program — presenting clear information. During 90-minute assemblies, students are presented with information from professionals in the allied healthcare from their own neighborhoods, and then sent home with a toolkit that get down to the details — how much a specific job pays, how many years of school, are required what type of schooling (special courses, GED only, two-year certificate, etc), and which schools in California offer theses programs.
For example, a student might be able to take a 12-week phlebotomy course, which could lead to $22-an-hour job with full benefits. This is information so unknown, Mangione noted, that a lot of times the parents who see the allied health professions toolkit will express their own personal interest in pursuing these careers.
“We try to be very specific about where you train and how much you are going to be paid,” Mangione said. “During the assemblies, there is a lot of Q and A time and we try to keep it lively and interactive for the students. We also try to keep it real, not over promise, but say, if you want to do this we are here to support you in that effort. All of these helping careers and hospitals can’t run without all of these jobs being filled. We try to be there to help the kids each step of the way. We try to bring young employees from the same community so the kids can connect with the program.”
The program has evolved further thanks to the efforts of donors Robert (Bobby) and Lauren Turner’s piloted internship and scholarship program. Several dozen students have gone through the program, which allows for more hands-on experiences — many students become CPR certified and shadow UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center professionals.
High school senior Ana Gomez said it was helpful to go through the program to see what is out there, and to expand her horizons. “I’m grateful for this opportunity because I am able to experience something that not a lot of people have done.”
And UCLA Health, among other health institutions, is going to need students like Gomez, and soon, Mangione said. “We are looking at substantial job shortages as the population ages and we’re going to have more and more need for allied health professionals for our patients. If we’re going to be a high quality and high performing health system, we’re going to need passionate, talented, well-trained people in all these jobs.”
They will stay connected to each cohort of students, and early returns show the students have rising interest in remaining on a health field path. Of a four-school questionnaire, the average student was 16 years old, 65 percent female, 70 percent Hispanic/Latino and 14 percent African American.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about getting a job,” Mangione added. “To me, the ultimate outcome is a job. A job at UCLA is a homerun, but if they train and then take a job at another hospital or health system, that’s a great thing, too. For the health of all Californians, we really need to address the lack of diversity in our professional workforce, and by bringing this program to high schools in Los Angeles, we want to ultimately increase the diversity of the allied health professions work force..”