As a student at North High School, So Ma Ya had lots of opportunities to learn about careers in health care.
Akron Children’s Hospital’s was the first organization/employer to partner with Akron Public Schools in creating the Akron Children’s Hospital Academy of Health and Human Services at North High School in 2018.
As a result, a variety of Akron Children’s employees came to her classes to talk about their jobs, and in the summer of 2019, she spent 8 weeks at the hospital as part of an internship.
So Ma graduated from North High School in June 2020, and in February 2021, she became the first North High graduate to be offered a position at Akron Children’s.
She works 24 hours a week as a greeter/screener, asking visitors and employees entering the campus about their Covid-19 exposure and symptoms.
She juggles her three 8-hour workdays around her studies at Stark State College, where she is on track to earn an associate degree and become a medical assistant. So Ma will benefit from the hospital’s tuition reimbursement program, and plans to eventually go on to earn a nursing degree.
So Ma said her income and the benefits, like tuition reimbursement, will greatly help her earn her college degrees. She will receive even more benefits, such as having the hospital help pay for her books and transportation to classes as part of Career Launch, Akron Children’s workforce diversity development program.
Just age 18 at time of her hire (and now 19), So Ma is young but has the work ethic, academic success and life experiences that make her an attractive candidate for any healthcare organization.
Her family is from Burma but fled to Thailand to escape war and religious persecution. So Ma was born in a refugee camp in Thailand, and only 7 when her family arrived in the United States. She believes that seeing what her parents went through naturally enhances her compassion for Akron Children’s patient families who may be enduring the toughest challenges imaginable.
“People go through a lot in life and no one is okay every day,” she said.
This understanding leads her to know the importance of treating every person who walks through her screening station with kindness and respect.
So Ma can envision a successful career at Akron Children’s.
“It’s a very welcoming, and interesting place,” she said. “When I did my internship, I thought to myself, ‘This is where I really want to be; this is where I want to work. “
She would like to work with children, perhaps in one of Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics offices.
During her summer internship, So Ma was assigned to the Patient Experience Department and worked on a wayfinding project. But, over the course of the 8 weeks, she had the opportunity to observe employees in a variety of departments.
Dr. Thomas Jefferson, career academy liaison & coordinator of special projects at Akron Children’s, was a mentor to So Ma and shared a favorable recommendation of her with the hospital’s recruiters.
“So Ma’s hiring is a good way to showcase the success of the hospital’s partnership with North High School,” he said.
North High School is the most diverse of all of the high schools in the Akron Public Schools system. Over the past few decades, the North Hill neighborhood has seen a steady growth in families settling in Akron from South America, Africa and Asia. At least a dozen different languages are spoken in the high school building.
“Like many organizations, we know that a focus on diversity and inclusion in hiring will make our hospital stronger and better, and our affiliation with North High is a natural ‘pipeline’ for getting to know these high-caliber students, inviting them to participate in internships and, hopefully, launching more careers in the future,” Dr. Jefferson added.
“We were able to get to know So Ma during her summer internship but also saw her throughout her years at North,” said Dr. Jefferson. “She was a student ambassador and highly involved in her school, so we had other positive interactions with her outside of her internship.”
Dr. Jefferson said Akron Children’s partnership with North High School can also have a positive effect in reducing the Northeast Ohio “brain drain” – the concern that the region’s best and brightest students leave for college, flock to the highly-desired cities primarily on the coasts, and never return.
“It’s a win for us to keep these students and a win for them to have a job offer and the support that comes with employment like healthcare benefits, retirement and tuition reimbursement,” he said. “As a student, So Ma benefitted from having her foot in the door at Akron Children’s and, now, as she moves along with her path in higher education, she will benefit from having the first-hand experience of working in a hospital.”