Once impoverished, student Ivan Carbajal finds his purpose through Kaiser Permanente's high school intern program.
Before he was a model student at Churchill High School in Eugene, Oregon, Ivan Carbajal lived in a van with his mom. He attended 7 different middle schools and struggled academically, more worried about food and shelter than scholastic achievement. But through profound determination and a series of fortunate events, Ivan found himself headed to Portland, Oregon, where he would discover his passion for health care advocacy as a KP YEAH! intern.
Kaiser Permanente Youth Exploration Academy in Health Care, known as KP YEAH!, is a 4-week-long, paid internship that introduces high school students to the complex world of health care. At Kaiser Permanente facilities, students shadow doctors, receive mentorship, and get a hands-on feel for the industry. It’s a program avidly supported by Keri Pilgrim-Ricker, 2019 Oregon State Teacher of the Year, leader of Churchill High’s Health Services Pathway, and Ivan’s Advanced Health Care Occupation teacher.
“We want students to have a realistic understanding of what it’s like to live and breathe within a career field,” she said. When Pilgrim-Ricker noticed Ivan’s aptitude for health care sciences, she encouraged him to apply — then went the extra mile to ensure his success after he was accepted by helping him raise funds for housing in Portland.
“Ivan had done so much work to get into the program, I couldn’t let that opportunity slip by for him,” she said. “I reached out to other teachers of the year and they were immediately on board. It was like wildfire.” Before he knew it, Ivan had enough money for a place to stay during his internship and scores of supportive messages from educators statewide.
“People were saying things like, ‘If Mrs. Ricker believes in you, then I do too!’” Ivan recalls. “It definitely brought tears to my eyes.” But this kind of experience is why Pilgrim-Ricker promotes KP YEAH! to her students.
“It was reflective of the guiding sentiment in Kaiser Permanente’s vision: how a program can inspire a student, which can inspire a community to collective action,” she said. “Not only does KP YEAH! put students of diverse backgrounds into health professions, but the simple act of supporting a student can inspire them.”
“What I did with Kaiser Permanente was one of the most fun months of my life,” Ivan said. “Being able to talk with health professionals and pretend to be them for the day was very motivating.”
Now a high school senior with sights set on college and a career in health care administration, Ivan hopes to use what he learned with KP YEAH! to tackle the social determinants of health that kept him from getting care as a child.
“My goal is to make a positive impact and to help underrepresented populations achieve health equity,” he said. “I want to use my power to give back to people like me and help them understand that no matter what background you come from, no matter what struggle you have, you can become something great.”