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Student Healthcare Leaders Program inspires Portland high school students

Inspiring Stories

High school students in Portland, Oregon, are exposed to healthcare careers through the innovative Student Healthcare Leaders program developed by Terry Johnsson, Adventist Health’s Pacific Northwest Region executive director of Mission Integration, and funded by the Adventist Health Portland Foundation.

The program’s first 10 students began their healthcare journey in February 2018. They meet weekly to learn about a specific department at Adventist Health Portland.

Department representatives talk with the students and answer their questions. Then the group moves to the department to experience how it works.

So far, the students have explored information technology, security, food services and clinical areas. “The program has made me consider fields that I didn’t previously know existed in the healthcare world,” says Ben Kruger-Blehm, a Portland Adventist Academy junior.

Johnsson is aided in his mission by Cheri Hill, an administrative assistant with a passion for youth, and Emilie Butler, Walla Walla University assistant professor of nursing, who mentors student nurses in the Portland area.

Breaking into the field

“I recently read that 78 percent of healthcare workers had someone in their family who worked in healthcare,” Johnsson explains. “Unless these young people get this exposure, they’ll never know they can be in healthcare.”

His inspiration comes from his own experience as a teen. A chaplain made a difference when Johnsson’s father passed away when Johnsson was 9 years old. So, when Johnsson was in high school and assigned to shadow someone in a career that interested him, he walked into the hospital chaplaincy office.

There were no spots available.

Deflated, Johnson returned to the waiting area of the chaplains’ office, where Beulah Stevens was the office secretary—because in that era women couldn’t serve as chaplains.

Stevens eyed the teenager. “Will you be here every day?” she asked Johnsson. “Will you write a report for me?”

Johnsson agreed. And so began a week that would change Johnsson’s life. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t work in healthcare,” Stevens said.

Passing along the opportunity

Johnsson hasn’t forgotten the help he received, and he wants that same opportunity for other teens. “If I don’t use my position as an opportunity to give back to my community, my being here is in vain,” says Johnsson.

Adventist Health Portland plans to host two groups each year. Johnsson meets with school counselors to help select the right kids. “Who has potential?” Johnsson asks them. “Do you see something in this kid?”

A legacy of learning

Johnsson recently visited Stevens in her memory care facility. She looked at him carefully and said, “I did something special for you.”

She did, and now Johnsson is sharing her special legacy through Student Healthcare Leaders, which he would like to expand beyond Portland.

The program will start taking applications in June 2018 for the next cohort, which begins this fall. Watch for application information.