Investing in Youth

This story was originally published in the 100 Million Healthier Lives Change Library and is brought to you through partnership with 100 Million Healthier Lives and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.

The youngest of five children born to Salvadoran immigrants, Jenny Bermudez grew up in Chelsea, a culturally diverse community just outside of Boston, where she always dreamed of becoming a nurse. Since junior year of high school, Jenny participated in the MGH Youth Scholars Program, which exposes underrepresented high school students to health and science career paths. As a Youth Scholars Alumna, she continued to receive coaching and support and worked as a patient care associate at the hospital alongside her mentor, Jennifer Mills, RN—becoming the first in her family to graduate from college. This past year, Jenny’s dreams were realized when she was hired as a full-time registered nurse at MGH.

"Everyone at MGH is a part of my family, and through them I took part in opportunities that benefited me both personally and professionally. I am so grateful to be here today, a recent nursing grad with a job at one of the world’s greatest hospitals." - Jenny Bermudez, BSN, RN

Education as a Key Social Determinant of Health

Understanding that there is a direct correlation between educational attainment and a person’s overall health and socioeconomic status, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Youth Programs are committed to making long-term educational investments in the lives of our young people.

The Center for Community Health Improvement’s Youth Programs sit at the intersection of community health, education and youth development. Through diverse programming for young people from grades 3 through 12 and beyond, we seek to whet students’ appetites and curiosity about subjects related to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Each year, we work with more than 1,000 youth from local public schools, along with 400 MGH staff and faculty (who serve as mentors and supervisors) in activities, internships and jobs that broaden horizons and foster exploration while building confidence and igniting passions for health and science careers and more.

In 2017, MGH employees volunteered a total of 15,730 hours engaging with the youth in our programs. Our youth are primarily from Boston and the surrounding cities of Chelsea and Revere. They are predominantly young people of color, with many coming from diverse, multi-cultural backgrounds. 

Our goal is to positively affect high school graduation rates, promote college attendance and persistence, and ensure our students’ abilities to thrive in the twenty-first century workforce.

Comprehensive Approach

Starting Early⁠—Elementary through Middle School

There is an educational gap for youth of color as it pertains to exposure to STEM, yet we know that:

  • Children exposed to STEM opportunities at a very young age perform better in science and math than students who are not.
  • Early exposure to science topics is important for a student’s career aspirations (Bathke, 2015).
  • Connecting youth of color to healthcare professionals of color can create a “me too” attitude for the students.

Our programming begins at the elementary and middle school levels, where, in partnership with five local Boys and Girls Clubs, we provide after school STEM clubs for students in grades 3 through 8. Through the MGH Office of Diversity and Inclusion, medical and surgical residents of color act as guest speakers to inspire and motivate students. In 7th and 8th grade, many of the students continue on to our Senior STEM Clubs where they deepen their knowledge of STEM subjects through hands-on activities.

Another initiative that targets this age group is the MGH Science Fair Mentorship Program done in partnership with the James P. Timilty Middle School in Boston. Now entering its 29th year, this partnership pairs volunteer mentors from the hospital—researchers, clinicians, and other professionals—with students who travel to MGH (every other Friday morning for four months) to work on their projects.

Year after year, positive connections are forged that help students tap into their vision and aspirations for the future. Many of the students start off thinking that to work at MGH you must be a doctor or nurse, but they quickly learn, from their mentors and exposure to the hospital setting, that STEM careers extend to many different professions. Students are often paired with the same MGH mentor for two program years.

This past year, 13 of the 50 Timilty students presented their posters at the Boston Citywide Science Fair, and one of the 7th graders earned the highest score in the middle school division of the citywide competition. Along with Sr. STEM and the science fair program, 8th graders also have opportunities to work at MGH during the summer until they graduate from high school. The middle school programs serve as feeders to the MGH Youth Scholars Program.

The High School Years—MGH Youth Scholars

The MGH Youth Scholars initiative is a four-year program that engages the students in rigorous skill development, along with hands-on experiences related to STEM and professional development, with the goal of sparking college aspirations and supporting participants throughout their post-secondary education, ensuring that they enter the workforce confident and well prepared. We incorporate a developmental approach in preparing students with the cognitive strategies and contextual skills necessary for persistence to achieve their educational and career goals beyond high school.

In the 9th and 10th grades, students explore and redefine ideas about health care and scientific professions and are also offered academic support. Sample activities might include:

  • Visiting the MGH Institute of Health Professions to explore the different roles and educational paths for nurses, physician assistants, speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists and physical therapists.
  • Practicing a simulated knee surgery with the sports medicine department
  • Discussing the training required for physicians while dissecting pig hearts with residents.