Helping Latinas find health care careers

By Lucia A. Crespo —

Maria Rivera sits in her office reviewing her e-mails as her daily routine.  She looks over applications sent from students to see if they qualify for a health care internship.

For 17 years Rivera has worked at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago as the special projects/workforce planning consultant. She  has dedicated much of her career to creating new programs for Latino youth interested in the health care field and to increasing diversity at the hospital.

Eight years ago Rivera introduced to the board members at the hospital a program she came up with called Discovering Health Care Career Internship.

“Our program is unique because it’s only for Latino students and it’s not just an internship for nursing, but for a wide range of different health care careers,” she said.

There is a great need for Hispanic bilingual nurses. Hispanics make up 14 percent of the nation’s population but only 2 percent of them are registered nurses, according to Minority Nurse.

Working at the hospital has given Rivera the opportunity to create new programs, not just for nurses but for all Latinos interested in the health industry.

Naydeen Rodriguez, 18, is a senior at Prosser Academy High School, said the health care program was a life-changing experience.

“I love it how students have the privilege to be in this program and learn the different fields of health care,” she said.

During the program she was exposed to things she never thought she would be able to see at her age.  “I remembered seeing a bunch of livers, brains, and an autopsy table where they analyze the patient to see how they passed away,” she said.

Naydeen believes that this is one of the best programs the hospital offers to Latino youth and thanks Rivera for its creation.

“Rivera is awesome because she listens to her students and helps them to comprehend any confusion that they might have about something,” she said.

At Children’s Memorial Hospital the students in the six-week program are exposed to areas like, radiology, respiratory care, physical therapy, psychiatry, and much more. The students also get to watch real-life surgeries.

“The students have to always come to the program in their scrubs and wear mask when needed, especially in the surgery room,” Rivera said.

Rivera attended Senn High School and after graduation in 1978 she went to Northwestern Business College for her associate’s degree.  Realizing that her passion was to get into human resources, she attended Wright College.  From there she took advice from her peers and teachers to intern at Children’s Memorial Hospital.  As an intern, she had an idea for the first diversity program and was able to pitch ideas to the board members at the hospital.

She said there is a need for more Latinos in health care.  “We have a lot of Hispanic patients but not enough patient care givers that are Latinos,” she said.

A colleague of Rivera, Loren LaLuz, said he is always willing to sit down and help Rivera with the programs.  “Working with Rivera has been a joy she has a delightful personality,” he said.

LaLuz said he can see the passion she has to help the youth build a future.  He helps out Rivera by giving some of the students that come to the program a tour around the hospital.  Also, he helps Rivera with the Three Kings event, which is a Hispanic holiday in January where they pass out gifts to the patients.

LaLuz said students are exposed to things at the hospital that are graphic.

“It allows them to see the seriousness of real-life situations,” he said.

Another program Mrs. Rivera created is known as Shades for the Future.  Now going on its fourth year it has been successful as well, she said.

“We came up with the name shades because it consists of different ethnicities and is very diverse,” she said.

Shades is for students in their senior year of high school and gives them a high school credit.  The program is a workforce development program where students learn about future careers while they work.

Her goal for the future is to start a pharmacy program that will train future pharmacists, but it will be targeted to students in their freshmen and sophomore year in college.

Rivera said she will continue to open up new opportunities for minority youth interested health care.

“I truly love what I do because it’s flexible,” she said.


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