Skip to main content

City Heights High Schoolers Are Prepping To Become Your Next Doctor

High school student Yadira Calderón (right) listens to registered nurse Whitn...

Photo by Tarryn Mento

Above: High school student Yadira Calderón (right) listens to registered nurse Whitney Abutin during her job shadowing experience at Rady Children's Hospital, Dec. 17, 2018.

GUEST: Tarryn Mento, City Heights reporter, KPBS News

Subscribe to the Midday Edition podcast on iTunes, Google Play or your favorite podcatcher.


Dressed in royal purple scrubs, nurse Whitney Abutin prepared for her rounds at Rady Children's Hospital. She sanitized her hands, squeezed on lilac disposable gloves, and on this particular week day, narrated her every move to high school senior Yadira Calderón, who was following closely behind her.

Calderón watched as Abutin visited a sick patient and checked his vital signs. It was one of several shadowing experiences she received through the hospital's health career program.

The Faces for the Future program provides in-the-field learning for students from several underserved communities in the United States, including San Diego's City Heights neighborhood. It aims to spark their interest in a health care career to help them land a good-paying gig and address future workforce needs.

Mary Beth Moran, who oversees the Faces program in San Diego, said its wellness education and career preparation help overcome poor health factors that often plague communities of low socioeconomic status.

"By educating these kids particularly in the health care profession not only provides them a means to go for a degree in health, but also increases their knowledge of health to help themselves and their well being now," Moran said.

It also serves the industry by growing the pool of medical professionals — the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a shortage of up to 120,000 medical professionals by 2030 — and ensuring workers are as diverse as the population they serve.

"The demographics of our country are changing, and with the Affordable Care Act, more and more people can access health care and we want to make sure we’re providing culturally and linguistically appropriate care for that population," Moran said.

RELATED: Health Center Trains, Recruits Doctors To Serve Poor Amid Growing Shortage

Faces for the Future alum Wendy Mejia is just one example. The bilingual speaker and 2011 high school graduate is now working for the hospital’s Center for Healthier Communities. She works on injury prevention with Spanish-speaking parents at National City schools.

Photo caption:

Photo by Tarryn Mento

Wendy Mejia, a program coordinator for Rady Children's Hospital's Center for Healthier Communities, stands in a hallway at the medical facility's main campus in Kearny Mesa, Dec. 17, 2018.

Mejia said the program introduced her to a variety of opportunities in the health care field and taught her what she did and didn’t like.

"When I was first doing my rotations, what I learned then was I wasn’t good with interacting with patients that were severely sick. It really hit a spot that I wasn’t comfortable with," Mejia said.

Now her job is to help keep kids out of the hospital in the first place.

Current program participant Calderón, who shadowed Abutin, learned her role is within a medical center. The Hoover High School senior will graduate in June and, like many of the program’s participants, she’ll be the first in her family to go on to higher education.

"I’m aiming for doctor, like an M.D., honestly. But I’m keeping my options open right now," she said. "I only know I want to go into emergency medicine or public health, and I want to take that into a global aspect, so in the global health field."

The program hasn’t tracked how many alumni have in fact entered the health care industry over the nearly 10 years it has operated in San Diego, but local organizers are planning to do so.

However, the program's future here soon may look different; its major funding source runs out this year. The hospital is working with the San Diego Unified School District to pursue federal funds to keep supporting it.

You can hear this story and other local news every morning by subscribing to San Diego Stories, KPBS’ daily news podcast. Subscribe via iTunes, Google Play or your favorite podcatcher.

Editor's Note: Faces for the Future in San Diego is largely funded by The California Endowment, which also supports City Heights reporting at KPBS.


San Diego News Now podcast branding

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.

  • Need help keeping up with the news that matters most? Get the day's top news — ranging from local to international — straight to your inbox each weekday morning.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Midday Edition banner

KPBS Midday Edition is a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or sign up for our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.