Ashley Mason was a 10th grader at Paul Robeson High School for Human Services in West Philadelphia when a recruiter spoke to her class about a program designed to connect students to careers in medicine.
Mason was intrigued, especially since the Penn Medicine High School Pipeline program was offering tutoring and mentoring alongside the internship.
She applied to the program, was accepted, and began working as a nursing intern at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP). While Mason changed her internship, transferring to the Office of Medical Affairs, her commitment to the program did not waiver.
“It definitely helped me grow,” says Mason, who graduated from Robeson in 2012. “It definitely helped me figure out what to do in terms of a career because it gave me the experience to try different places.”
Since 2007, the Penn Medicine Pipeline program has enabled neighborhood high school students to work in jobs across the Health System—from nursing, to marketing, to IT. The students are also mentored by UPHS staffers, receive professional development to prepare them for the workplace, and take courses at the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP).
“We really see this as a responsibility as one of the largest employers in Philadelphia that we can make that kind of impact on youth,” says Judy Schueler, vice president, organizational development, and chief human resources officer for Penn Medicine, who helped bring the Pipeline program to fruition.
For the first three years, the Pipeline program consisted solely of a summer internship. Schueler says Penn Medicine jumped at the opportunity to offer a more immersive experience to students.
The program has existed in its current form since 2010 and draws student applicants from three West Philadelphia schools: Boys Latin Charter, Paul Robeson, and Sayre. The Pipeline program is run in conjunction with the Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN) and the University City District.
In 2010, the program was expanded into what Frances Graham, associate director of workforce development for Penn Medicine, calls a “middle college model.” In this expanded program, students are enrolled in the Pipeline for two full years, and must balance their junior and senior years of school with work and college courses.
“It’s a very rigorous program,” says Graham, who helps to run the day-to-day operations of the program. “Once we get a student, we have them for the full two years. We want to make sure they’re a good fit.”
Schueler says the goal is to keep the program relatively small with cohorts of approximately 25 high school students.
“They’re going to school, taking classes, and working,” she says. “You have to assess for that level of motivation and determination to be able to stick with the program.”
In fact, students have demonstrated an incredible commitment to the program: 100 percent of the 2012 class of Pipeline students graduated from high school.
Mason says this school-Pipeline balance wasn’t always easy. In her junior and senior years, after a full day of high school, she went to her internship, attended a class at CCP, or participated in a tutoring session or other meeting.
“It was intense,” Mason says. “It was great to be in an environment [where] I had people like that I could depend on. I’m very glad that I had an opportunity to be part of a program like that.”
Those who successfully complete the Pipeline program are eligible to take the next step and become a Penn Medicine Academy intern. This opportunity allows students to work 20 hours a week in the Health System, and be paid for 40 hours a week. In this way, interns can take advantage of Penn’s Medicine’s tuition benefit to help pay for college.
Mason is currently an intern in the Academy, working part-time as a Hospital Ambassador Concierge in HUP’s Patient and Guest Relations office. She is also taking a full course load at CCP. She graduates from CCP in May and hopes to continue her education at Drexel University.
Penn Medicine is awaiting funding from PYN to welcome the new cohort of students—but Schueler is confident the program will soon be able to welcome a new cohort of students.
“It’s so great an employer like Penn Medicine says in a demonstrative way, ‘We can make an impact in West Philadelphia that has outstanding results,’” Schueler says. “We hope that’s a charge to other employers in the community.”