When Akron Children’s introduced its Career Launch program in 2019, it was with the intention of filling entry-level positions in specific degree paths.
“A labor market analysis revealed that the people needed to fill critical roles weren’t available in our area,” said Patrice Russell, program manager. “So, leadership decided to do something about that.”
Patrice said the creation of Career Launch has allowed the hospital to offer educational and job opportunities in the following roles: medical assistant, licensed practical nurse, EEG technician, pharmacy technician, sterile processing technician, registered respiratory technician and medical lab technician. The program is open to both current employees and community members who are interested in either starting or transitioning their career path into a health care setting. Akron Children’s pays for the 2-year degree program with the student committing to a minimum of 2 years of employment at the hospital.
“The beauty of this program is it fits so many people,” said Patrice. “Some may have never had the opportunity to go to college. Others may be pivoting due to COVID and want to step into the health care industry.”
In addition to covering 100% of the cost of tuition, uniforms, books, fees and equipment, the program provides childcare and transportation assistance as needed.
For Emily Betts, who works in food services, the program was a win-win. Emily knew she loved working with kids, but her prior job in daycare was no longer fulfilling her. While researching how she could get a job working in a pediatric health care setting, she learned about medical assisting.
“It’s great not to have to worry about the financial component of school,” she said. “That was what was holding me back initially. Since the hospital takes care of that, I can fully focus on my studies.
“A benefit to working for the hospital is my supervisor knows I am in school, so she has been extremely supportive and flexible allowing me to schedule work around my classes,” she added.
One of Emily’s favorite elements of the program is the mentorship feature.
“At first I was nervous because I’ve had bad experiences with mentors in the past,” she said. “I was afraid my mentor was going to be more like a warden who was assigned to make sure I did well.”
Emily quickly discovered those fears were unfounded.
“When I met my mentor (Michelle Dickstein, associate project manager), I immediately felt a connection,” she said. “We used to meet in person, but now we speak via phone every 2 weeks and talk about the things I’m struggling with at my job and in my life. I can’t imagine going through this program without her.”
Michelle, a 7-year Children’s employee, said when was asked to be a mentor, she jumped at the chance.
“I really enjoy coaching and mentoring and have always sought out mentors for myself,” she said. “Although I have served as an advisor for graduate students in the past, Emily is my first official mentee.”
She says she finds the role incredibly rewarding.
“I get as much out of it as Emily does,” she said. “I enjoy helping her navigate school, work and life. It’s nice to be able to pass down my own lessons learned.”
With no set agenda for their meetings, Michelle lets Emily set the tone.
“When I’m feeling overwhelmed, she helps me break things down and find solutions,” said Emily. “It’s like she’s my own personal cheerleader.”
“A big part of my role is to offer support and reassure Emily that she is doing OK,” said Michelle. “I help her find ways to balance everything, so she doesn’t get burned out. It feels really good to give back and make someone’s day better.”
Both women say the program is a wonderful opportunity for people who thought they could never perform a health care job.
“Not only is the program valuable in helping us build a diverse and inclusive workforce, it’s also another way to open doors and serve our community,” said Michelle.
Patrice added, “I know how important education is to grow in your career. I returned to school while working full time, and if it weren’t for my mentor, I wouldn’t have finished. We want to see community members and employees on the path to rewarding careers with advancement opportunities. More important, we don’t want financial obstacles to prevent them from being successful.”
Emily is currently in her third semester at Stark State. Even with the 2-year commitment she was required to make to the hospital, she hasn’t had any second thoughts.
“I love the hospital environment and hope to get a job either on main campus or in one of the ambulatory offices,” she said. “There are so many opportunities. If I choose, I know the hospital offers even more opportunities for me to further my career down the road.”