Adventist Health Portland starts early to build the new generation of health care workers

Educators will tell you that when they can expand a student’s belief in what’s possible, it’s magic.  

That’s exactly what’s happening with the Student Healthcare Leaders (SHL) program at Adventist Health Portland, which is not only sparking inspiration, but also is playing a pivotal role in shaping the future of the health care workforce  

This unique after-school program immerses high school students in hands-on experiences across a spectrum of hospital services, ranging from cutting-edge robotic surgery to nursing and IT. Offering an exclusive behind-the-scenes glimpse into health care careers, the program aims to not only expose students to potential professions but also to instill in them the confidence they need to pursue these aspirations. This is especially true for those students who don’t have someone in their inner circle with a similar experience. 

One of the program’s creators knows how important those personal connections can be. Dr. Terry Johnsson, mission integration executive at Adventist, recalled his own experience as a teenager.  

“When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to volunteer at Adventist Health Portland,” he said. “At age 15, spending time behind the scenes at a major medical center with a director, Beulah Stevens, was the chance of a lifetime. This experience showed me that I, too, could work in the medical field one day.” 

Students accepted into the program meet weekly to explore the various interconnected roles that collectively contribute to community care. Students come from a wide variety of family backgrounds and boast a wide range of GPAs. Now in its 10th year, the SHL has hosted nearly 200 students from more than 30 Oregon and southwest Washington high schools. One alumnus works at Adventist Health Portland, while many others are employed by other health care providers. Other graduates are attending medical or nursing school.    

“Besides the once-in-a-lifetime experiences, this program allowed me to talk and ask questions of doctors, CEOs, nurses, and other hospital staff,” said one SHL graduate. “That’s something you can’t always do on your free time.”