August 21, 2023

Engaging the future health care workforce

Students from Whittier College in California had the opportunity to shadow Kaiser Permanente Downey Medical Center physicians and learn more about health care careers.

Peer health educators from Whittier College serve as health advocates to their fellow students while also gaining valuable professional experience.

When a local college needed physicians to mentor students, Benjamin Leong, MD, an urgent care physician and a physician director at Kaiser Permanente Downey Medical Center, gathered 8 of his colleagues to help out.  

“If we’re going to follow our mission of improving the health of our members and communities, we need to continuously foster an environment that mentors and engages individuals from those same communities who are interested in health care careers,” said Dr. Leong. 

Future health care workers in the making 

Whittier College in Southern California established its peer health educator program to train students as health advocates and resource experts for the college’s student population. Peer health educators, who are all majoring in health care fields, also learn about various professions to help them find direction and develop their career plans.   

Part of each student’s education comes in the form of a physician shadowing program. Germán Aguilar-Tinajero, associate director of internships and experiential learning at Whittier College, was thrilled at the opportunity to pair peer health educators with Kaiser Permanente physicians to fulfill this experience requirement. 

“Kaiser Permanente is a well-recognized and leading health care provider, so students get excited to go to their facilities and learn from their doctors,” said Aguilar-Tinajero. 

Learning about high-quality care  

Walking into Kaiser Permanente Whittier Medical Offices, Sonali Ortiz-Casillas was nervous. A third-year psychology major, she had never shadowed a physician.   

Fortunately, Ronald Ngayan, MD, immediately put her at ease with his warm and welcoming nature. During the patients’ appointments, Ortiz-Casillas saw high-quality patient experience and care delivery in action.   

“Dr. Ngayan had been seeing a lot of his patients for a while, so he had a good relationship with them. The environment in the room was very friendly and upbeat, and I enjoyed that,” said Ortiz-Casillas. 

The most important part of care delivery 

Dr. Ngayan also enjoyed the experience, saying he bonded with an “engaging” Ortiz-Casillas and had the opportunity to share the importance of delivering a personalized care experience.  

“My mom was a retired physician, and I remember her telling me, ‘When you become a doctor, make sure you treat your patients as if you were treating me,’ and so whenever I have the opportunity to impart that wisdom to someone else, I take it,” said Dr. Ngayan. 

Genoveva Aguilar, MD, who specializes in urgent care, also enjoyed taking part in the experience of mentoring students. 

“Medicine is a challenging yet rewarding field. It provides many opportunities to serve not just those who are ill, but also to serve as role models for those who may be following in our footsteps,” she said.

Partnering for a better world  

2023 was the second year of the peer health educator program, and Dr. Leong hopes to see many more. 

“I’m looking forward to continuing the relationship between Downey Medical Center and Whittier College, and I’m hopeful Downey Medical Center can continue to build similar relationships with other local colleges,” he said.  

Learn more about other Kaiser Permanente initiatives to invest in educating future health care workers.