A High School Student’s Journey Toward a Health Care Career

Published nov. 07, 2019

One of JFF’s valued partners, HERE to HERE is a Bronx-based nonprofit that builds pathways to rewarding jobs for young people from high school through age 25 and employers seeking talent. The organization works to connect young people, high schools, postsecondary institutions, community-based organizations, and employers. HERE to HERE is a member of JFF’s Pathways to Prosperity Network which creates new opportunities for young people, provides employers with a talent pipeline of young professionals, and strengthens state and regional economies.

Sonia is a high school student who moved to New York City two years ago after living in Italy and Nigeria. Now, at just 16 years old, Sonia is set to graduate high school and already completed an internship and accepted a part-time certified nursing assistant (CNA) position with The New Jewish Home (NJH) in the Bronx. While health care is one of the fastest-growing industries in New York City, and many regions across the country, there are many barriers to entering careers in the field.

In November, Sonia addressed the audience at “Career Medicine: A Healthcare Convening,” a convening on careers in health care in partnership with the Bronx Borough President’s Office, Montefiore Medical Center, and New York Alliance for Careers in Healthcare, to share her internship experience, how it impacted her, and how it led to her becoming a CNA. Ahead of the event, Sonia spoke with Callie Thuma, project manager for high school internships at HERE to HERE, who has worked with Sonia throughout her time at NJH.

I feel like the more I grow up, the more I’m ready. I’m getting prepared for the future.

Sonia, high school student with JFF's partner HERE to HERE
HERE to HERE Sonia
Sonia speaking at “Career Medicine: A Healthcare Convening"

Callie: Welcome, Sonia! Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Sonia: My name is Sonia and I’m a senior in high school. I like to commit to what I do and pursue my dreams. I like to work hard and keep myself moving.

Callie: How did you get involved with HERE to HERE?

Sonia: I was in 10th grade when I met HERE to HERE. I was excited because my school said you were going to help us get internships and jobs, and I was happy because I’ve never had a job before. I was also scared because I had just come to the United States from Italy. I was new to everything.

You told us about all the opportunities that we had and I was interested in health care so I wanted to try it. I loved anatomy but I have never really had hands-on work with a hospital or a nursing home. I applied to the New Jewish Home Geriatrics Career Development Program. It was a long process, but it opened up a whole new world for me.

Callie: How did you first become interested in health care?

Sonia: My mom was interested in health care but didn't have the opportunity to get into it. The highest level of education she has is high school because after her dad died she did not have the opportunity to pursue a career in the industry. So I wanted to do it. She exposed me to it and showed me different careers in health care.

Then I got to know HERE to HERE and I told her I was taking the CNA course. When she moved to the city, she started taking the course too. Sometimes—because during the week she works—she’ll take the practice exam over the weekend. She goes to school at night and practices the different CNA skills. So before she goes there to practice, we go over them, we correct each other. I got to take the exam, she got to take the exam. I became a CNA before my mom. She was so proud of me!

Callie: What was the application process like for NJH?

Sonia: HERE to HERE helped me translate the application. I didn't understand much of what it said. I was scared, but next to fear there was excitement. Then, during the school year, HERE to HERE held a course to get us ready. We talked about what to put on your resume, how to do an interview, like how to answer the question, “Tell me about yourself.” You guys taught me a lot. I remember sitting in the office doing the application and you were right there next to us.

Callie: So after you submitted the online application, what happened next?

Sonia: We got to meet the people of NJH and it was so cool. It was an interview, but it was a fun interview because it was a group interview. We did icebreakers to get to know each other, to get to know about the nursing home.

At the end of the group interview, we had to answer questions that they gave us individually on a piece of paper. I remember answering those questions and being scared. What if my English is not good? What if they’re not saying what I’m trying to say? But I tried my best.

Callie: So what is a typical day like at your internship?

Sonia: We clock in at four, and you’ve got to be ready to go on your floor. Usually, the patients eat around six, so when the food comes up I help feed the patients. I love to see the nurses in action when it’s time to give a patient their medicine.

Every CNA has their patients, sometimes nine patients at a time. They have to bathe all of them. They have to get mouth care. They have to take a shower. You have to take them to the dining room where they can eat. Some of them are bedridden and they cannot move, so you’ve got to be really careful.

I get out of high school with a job that pays well and it’s a job that I want to do. That’s the exciting part.

Sonia, high school student with HERE to HERE

Callie: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Sonia: Be curious. Actually, it was one of my elder mentors that said it to me. They said make sure you get to know a bit of everything. And that is what I keep doing every day. I ask questions. I want to know everything.

Callie: Was this one of the elders you met at NJW?

Sonia: Yeah, it was the first summer that I was there. This elder was a math teacher, and that day she wasn't feeling well. I told her it was my last day, and—even though she was feeling bad—she found the strength to write down a little note. I have it at home, it said, “You’re the best nurse.” Even though I wasn’t a nurse, she thought I was a nurse. That just had my heart. You’d think because there’s so many of them, they don’t realize what you do but they actually do.

Callie: I know the internship you have now, after school, as an assistant CNA, is a pretty special opportunity. Can you explain how you got it?

Sonia: When the CNA course was done, I had to apply to the internship. But this time I wasn’t applying to the program, I was applying to work at the NJH as an employee. I had to write cover letters, get a recommendation, and then go for another interview. This time it was a way more formal interview. I was scared. I never thought I would have gotten to this point. But I got accepted after that interview.

This summer, The New Jewish Home gave us the opportunity to take a certified nurse course, and thanks to that I got certified and have the opportunity to work as a certified nurse assistant. Before, we would just go up there and interact with them, but now that I am a CNA, I can give out trays, feed them, or transport them.

Callie: So you’re a senior. When you go to college, do you think you will use your CNA part-time? Do you know what you want to do after you graduate?

Sonia: Yeah! I want to pursue a career. I want to go to a four-year college and then go to medical school. I’m still undecided if I should follow a pre-med path or a nursing path. Before I didn’t even have nursing in mind before I got to see what a nurse does every day.

I get out of high school with a job that pays well and it’s a job that I want to do. That’s the exciting part. The process of getting into the job—right now I’m just experiencing it and I’m open to all the new stuff. I feel like the more I grow up, the more I’m ready. I’m getting prepared for the future.