Jessica Saavedra didn’t always know she wanted to work in healthcare. It all began in 2011, when Jessica was a high school junior seeking an internship and her counselor connected her with the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital’s Mentorship and Workforce Development Program. In partnership with local schools, the Workforce Development program, which is housed within the Patrick M. Magoon Institute for Healthy Communities, offers young people living in Chicago’s under-resourced neighborhoods mentorship and career development opportunities in the healthcare field.
Jessica grew up in Belmont-Cragin, a largely Hispanic neighborhood in Northwest Chicago. Now 27, she holds a Chemistry degree and is a newly minted Medical Assistant at Lurie Children’s after completing a Registered Medical Assistant training program through Accelerate U at National Louis University. She attributes much of her success to Maria Rivera, the Director of the Workforce Development Program, who gave Jessica her first of many roles at Lurie Children’s. “Maria was more of a mentor than a boss. She supported me, encouraging me to pursue higher education and my dreams.”
Since that summer internship, Jessica has worked in administrative and programmatic roles at the hospital, including outreach work with high school juniors and seniors. “I helped a lot of students with things like resume workshops and creating elevator pitches. I really loved the work because I felt I was giving back to the community I was from,” she says.
Jessica shares that the COVID-19 pandemic was the “wake up call” she needed to fulfill her goal of pursuing a career as a health care worker. Ultimately, she aspires to become a Physician Assistant and is applying to programs in the coming year. “I feel like I’m a product of the Workforce Development Program. I dream of coming back to the program as a Physician Assistant and telling the students that I’ve been in the same seat they’re sitting in now,” she tells us.
For communities like hers, Jessica believes that the lack of representation and diversity in healthcare professions is a significant barrier for youth wanting to enter the workforce. “There’s almost a disconnect between where they are and where and who they want to be. They don’t see themselves being in the role of a doctor or a surgeon because of the color of their skin,” says Jessica. The numbers say it all: today, African Americans and Hispanic/Latinx populations comprise less than 6% of the physician workforce in the United States.
Reflecting on the pandemic and how it has affected today’s youth, Jessica gave this advice: “Don’t lose focus, despite everything that’s changing and out of your control. It’s important to keep taking small steps toward your goal, and never give in to doubt. Always stay focused.”