Program for Detroit high schoolers a template for building healthcare workforce of future

In the late morning of August 12, Detroit Public School board member LaMar Lemmons took to the stage of the Kresge Auditorium at Harper University Hospital and, with great enthusiasm, said, “I love the smell of success in the morning.” His excitement was for Project Genesis, a summer jobs program that connects Detroit's high school students with the Detroit Medical Center. Approximately 100 Detroit students were employed by the DMC this summer, performing tasks that include removing IVs, checking blood pressure, and escorting patients around the hospital. Gathered in the audience were former and current student interns of Project Genesis, there to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the program.
In addition to Lemmons, representatives of the Mayor's Office, Detroit Medical Center, and DMC parent company Tenet Healthcare all took the podium to acknowledge both the students and the program itself. Student interns, both past and present, give speeches, too. Each relates their Project Genesis experience, often with similar themes.
The takeaway from the students is that Project Genesis isn't just a summer jobs program. Students who may have thought about a career in health care now know whether or not hospital work is right for them. They're learning just what it takes to follow that career path. And they're learning that it's a real possibility.
Tahnia Alauddin is a Project Genesis graduate. Having enrolled while attending Cass Technical High School, Alauddin is now entering her second year of pharmacy school at Wayne State University. She's one of over 20 Project Genesis alumni currently employed by the DMC, working as a pharmacy technician at DMC's Children's Hospital of Michigan. She credits Project Genesis with providing her a pathway into the industry.
“People think pharmacy school is so difficult, but I found out with Project Genesis that what you really need is hard work and dedication,” says Alauddin. “The word 'smart' is subjective, and what gets you through those difficult classes is the hard work and dedication. Learning that is what kept me going.”
Alauddin is just one of the 826 students who have enrolled in Project Genesis since its founding in 2006. The program is the brain child of Detroit mayor Mike Duggan, who was then the president and CEO of the DMC. Alexis Wiley, chief of staff of the Mayor's Office and attending as a representative, says that the mayor still talks about Project Genesis and that there's a direct correlation between the DMC summer jobs program and the city's own Grow Detroit's Young Talent. That program employed approximately 5,600 people just this year. Next year's goal is 8,000 and the mayor is pushing her to reach 10,000, says Wiley. “The desire of young people to find work is there.”
The success of Project Genesis drew Cathy Fraser, a senior vice president of Tenet Healthcare, in from the Company's headquarters in Dallas, Texas. She's looking to develop a formal version of Project Genesis, one that can be instituted across the company's 81 hospitals in 42 states. Health care is an industry that's facing a serious workforce shortage, Fraser says, with experts forecasting a shortfall of as many as 500,000 jobs in 2020.
“What makes Project Genesis so successful? The history of Project Genesis, its size – they've done a great job of identifying people with an interest in working in health care,” says Fraser. “When kids go into programs like this, it spurs them to follow up on and enter a career in health care.”
MJ Galbraith is Model D's development news editor. Follow him on Twitter @MikeGalbraith.
This story is part of a series of features on Detroit anchor institutions. Support for this series is provided by a coalition of organizations, including Henry Ford Health System, Detroit Medical Center, Hudson-Webber Foundation, College for Creative Studies, and Midtown Detroit Inc.
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MJ Galbraith is Model D's development news editor. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.