Developing Local Talent for High-Tech Careers

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Rush internships provide West Side high school students with IT training, career opportunities

Rush has been an important part of Dymin Spillers’ life since day one, literally: She was born at Rush University Medical Center. Then as a freshman at Richard T. Crane Medical Preparatory High School, Spillers returned to Rush’s campus and spent the next four years interning in a number of clinical departments.

“I love babies,” she says, “and I was thinking about becoming a labor and delivery nurse practitioner.” Instead, a Rush program that debuted in 2017 opened her eyes to new health care employment possibilities.

Today, Spillers is a full-time college student. She’s also a project coordinator in the Rush Information Services department who’s helping to implement a speech-recognition software program designed to improve the interaction between patients and health care providers and reduce the time those providers spend on data entry. Not surprisingly, she’s looking ahead to a degree and a career in health systems management.

Pathways to rewarding careers

Spillers was one of the first 15 Crane seniors to enroll in Rush’s Health IT Pathways program, which includes a semester of coursework followed by a summer internship. Participants study current topics in health care and the fundamentals of health care information technology; earn certification in the Epic electronic health record system; and learn application development.

After graduation from Crane, program participants spend the summer interning at Rush. Eleven of last year’s participants left Chicago to begin college after their internships. The four who stayed in Chicago, including Spillers, work 32 hours a week at Rush while completing associate degrees at nearby Malcolm X College.

Ryan Blackwell, director of the Project Management Office at Rush, developed and teaches the program’s current curriculum and supervises the interns. The program’s goals, he says, include ensuring that students are positioned to finish college debt-free, with in-demand skills that translate into well-paying jobs. In fact, participants can earn much more than their peers right away.  

“Students finish the program with a marketable skill — Epic certification — that pays two to three times the rate of a traditional summer job,” Blackwell explains. “Most people don’t have this income potential until they’re out of college.”

These jobs can change the trajectory of students’ lives and their families’ lives immediately. Blackwell says some program graduates have become the major breadwinners in their households while still teenagers, enabling siblings to stay in school and improving the whole family’s quality of life.

A community investment by JPMorgan Chase

The Health IT Pathways program is funded by JPMorgan Chase & Co. as part of a $40 million investment over three years to create economic opportunity in Chicago’s underserved South and West Side neighborhoods.

“Helping people get the skills they need for high-quality jobs in growing fields like health care is an important component of the investment,” says Owen Washburn, JPMorgan Chase vice president of global philanthropy.

“Technology-enabled jobs are growing quickly, offering good paying employment to people with in-demand training and credentials, often delivered with on-the-job experience,” Washburn adds. “Health care is emblematic of this trend.” According to the company’s research, Chicago health care employers have trouble filling middle-skill positions in a number of health care specialties because many local job-seekers lack the necessary training and education.

JPMorgan Chase’s philanthropic mission to promote inclusive growth dovetails with Rush’s mission to improve the health of the people and the diverse communities it serves — not only by providing outstanding health care, but also by helping to reduce health disparities through strategies that include providing educational and employment opportunities on the West Side.

With JPMorgan Chase’s support, Rush’s Health IT Pathways program eventually will serve as a pilot for rollout to other high schools and academic medical centers across Chicago, says Sharon Gates, senior director of community engagement at Rush. First, however, Rush will expand the program internally.

“We had 15 students our first year and have more than 40 this year,” Gates says. “Next year, we plan to expand the program to more than 60 students.”

Those students will include about 15 from other schools that, like Crane, are partners in the Rush Education and Career Hub. REACH, as the program is known, provides educational services and support for young people from pre-K through college in order to boost high school graduation rates and college enrollment; build pathways to careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and health care; and improve readiness for college and the workforce.

Program benefits extend to the community

Students who continue on the health care IT track are eligible for well-paying jobs as soon as they enter the workforce full-time. For example, according to, entry-level application developers earn an average of $57,000 per year.

Program graduates are also highly valuable to the community, according to Blackwell, because the curriculum frames health care IT skills in the context of improving community health. “As residents of the neighborhoods that Rush serves, these students are in a unique spot to be aware of underlying issues, which will help them deliver a better product,” he says. “This summer, we have more than 40 interns from our neighborhoods who will design and build health care solutions that are informed by their first-hand experiences.”

The program’s benefits to participants extend well beyond marketable job skills, according to Spillers. “This program teaches you who you are — who you want to be and who you don’t want to be,” she says.

Besides hard skills in Epic and application development, students learn soft skills such as leadership, workplace confidence and collaboration. “I’ve connected with people at Rush from janitors to doctors and receptionists to nurses,” Spillers says, “and learned the importance of every person and every role. The mutual respect here has taught me a lot about how and why I want to help people in my career.”

When she finishes her degree at Malcolm X, Spillers plans to transfer to Rush University to earn a bachelor’s degree in health sciences followed by a master’s in health systems management. She also plans to use her own experience to encourage others to consider rewarding health care career paths aside from the clinical jobs that may be familiar to them.

“I want to use my voice to speak up for young people in the community, and I want young people to know there are so many roles you can fill,” she says. “It’s all about motivating the future.”


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