A unique new program is helping high school students find their calling in caring for others. “Not a lot of kids have this opportunity,” said participant Maya McKnight, “hands-on activity in a hospital.”

Maya McKnight
Maya McKnight

Bridges to Healthcare offers paid internships to students from high schools in the Winston-Salem and Charlotte areas that largely serve at-risk communities. Ten students at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center and 10 at Novant Heath Presbyterian Medical Center experience the many dimensions of health care in the after-school program.

The goal? To point these gifted young people toward a career in health care. “There’s an entire world in hospitals beyond doctors and nurses,” said Arkia Armstrong, who directs Novant Health’s Pipeline & Recruitment Programs. Armstrong is inspired by what she sees. “Oh my gosh, bright, bright students. You can see light bulbs go off.”

The strategy? Over eight to 16 weeks, interns rotate through a variety of clinical and nonclinical areas, including nursing, radiology, life in a doctor’s office, information technology and community engagement. Josh Moore of Kernersville says his team delivered a baby. “A fake baby,” he is quick to add.

Dr. Ophelia Garmon Brown
Dr. Ophelia Garmon-Brown

The program’s name holds deep meaning. Bridges to Healthcare connects teenagers who often don’t get such powerful opportunities that could lead to a career and possibilities for a bright future. The plan is to engage up to 180 students over a three-year period, thanks to a $1.4 million gift from the John M. Belk Endowment, secured by the Novant Health Foundation.

There’s more: Students attend workshops to learn about resume-writing, handling personal finances and other life skills. Bridges to Healthcare plans to expand to the North Carolina coastal region. And Phase II will offer financial aid to high school graduates pursuing health-related education at a community college. Paid internships at Novant Health will be part of the package.

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Community and team member donors helped make this program possible through Novant Health foundations. Click here to connect with your local foundation team to learn more, or make a gift to help save and improve more lives today.

All this is offered in the name of a physician who devoted her life to serving the neediest among us. Dr. Ophelia Garmon-Brown was a Novant Health family physician and co-chair of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force. She worked so that every person in her community has an equal chance to prosper. Her dream was her fuel. “We could have a different place,” she said. “We could have a place where Charlotte-Mecklenburg could hold its head up and keep its back straight and know it is a place where all people could succeed.”

Cancer took Garmon-Brown on Nov. 17, 2021. She was 67. Her legacy endures in the students who are writing a new story for themselves through Bridges to Healthcare.

Maya McKnight’s inspiration comes from caring for her mother. Maya, who turns 17 Aug. 4, is a rising senior at Julius L. Chambers High School in Charlotte. When she isn’t maintaining a 3.9 GPA, playing on her school’s volleyball team and helping in her aunt’s boutique, she dotes on her mom, who is dealing with thyroid cancer. Maya has already learned a valuable lesson. Healing comes in all forms, whether it’s shopping for groceries or making spinach shakes for mom.

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When Maya graduates, she plans to attend Winston-Salem State University and major in nursing. But first, there’s Bridges to Healthcare. She arrived June 20 with a message for her instructors. The more hands-on, the better. “I just don’t want to look over somebody’s shoulder,” she said.

Soaking up the culture

Josh Moore, 16, of Kernersville, bubbles over with what he experienced this past spring at Bridges to Healthcare at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center in Winston-Salem. There was that baby (remember, it was fake) his team helped deliver. One of his peers lay on a table for a CT scan (it wasn’t the real thing). His favorite part was radiology and learning how to take an X-ray. Getting to the root of a patient’s problem, he said, is fascinating.

For Josh, the most memorable part went beyond the science of medicine. He was struck by how doctors and nurses talk to each other with a collaborative spirit. He was moved by how kindhearted everyone is, all in for the cause of healing.

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Josh Moore

These are the insights he will take with him into his junior year at Parkland High School in Winston-Salem, where he’s on the AB Honor Roll and plays varsity basketball. These are the lessons he will embrace at North Carolina Central or North Carolina A&T, where he plans to play hoops and continue his journey toward medicine.

He wants to become an anesthesiologist, living up to the oath he one day intends to take: “May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.” But remember, Josh is 16. He learned some other important stuff at Bridges to Healthcare.

“The thing that hit me big,” he said, “was how many jobs there are in the hospital, how many routes you can take to make money and have fun.”

To learn more about Bridges to Healthcare, including how to apply, email [email protected].