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The Summer Job that Became a Career

Kaiser Permanente employee retires 45 years after starting out her rewarding career as a summer youth employee.

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You could say that Kathleen Schwartz, capital plan consultant, Southern California Regional Strategy, has had a life-long affair with Kaiser Permanente. A “Kaiser baby,” Schwartz was born at Los Angeles Medical Center (LAMC), just two years after the hospital was built. At 15, she returned to the Sunset facility to work through the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), which was still in its infancy. That opportunity led to a 45-year career at Kaiser Permanente for Schwartz, who is set to retire in January, 2016. Before saying farewell, she pauses to reflect on her career trajectory and SYEP.

“I think I was one of the first deserving summer youth employees that Kaiser Permanente hired,” says Schwartz. “My mother who was a widow needed help with my Catholic high school tuition, so I looked for a job to help her out.” Kaiser Permanente’s Summer Youth Program provided that support for Schwartz and her family.

In 1971, Schwartz and approximately 10 other students were offered summer employment positions at Los Angeles Medical Center through SYEP, which has provided paid summer work experiences for under-served high school students since 1968. Schwartz worked in the Central Services department at LAMC wrapping sterilized instruments, but she also remembers a program that fostered professional career development from the beginning.

“My career goal at the time was to become an obstetrician, so I was thrilled about the opportunity to witness an actual delivery,” recalls Schwartz. “We scrubbed in and carefully gathered in the operating room to watch the procedure, which was unlike anything I had ever experienced.”

Today, Kaiser Permanente's SYEP provides underserved or at-risk high school students with supportive and meaningful employment experiences in the health care field. Participants attend educational sessions and motivational workshops that introduce them to the possibilities of pursuing a career in health care. Like Schwartz, many former program participants are now employed at Kaiser Permanente as nurses, department administrators, lab technicians, opticians and engineers.

Thanks to her flexibility and good relationships with LAMC staff and physicians, Schwartz was asked to join the team on an on-call basis, covering for others on weekends, nights, and during the holidays. In 1974, at the age of 18, she was officially hired to work in the central services department as a full-time clerk.

Although she didn’t become a physician, Schwartz still managed to secure a career in health care by working hard and being reliable. “SYEP definitely gave me that foot in the door to KP,” she says. “My managers trusted me at a young age, they saw my value, and they gave me many opportunities based on my experience and not necessarily education. This has been a great blessing.”

Schwartz eventually worked her way up to her current position in capital planning, where she provides expertise for new hospital and facility plans, and is known as the “Czarina of Zip Codes” for her vast knowledge in this area. In anticipation of her retirement, she has spent the last year developing a workflow and detailed plan to help ensure a smooth transition for her successor.

“I consider myself fortunate for having such a solid career with a great organization like Kaiser Permanente,” says Schwartz. “The reason I’ve stayed is because I believe in this organization. KP is one of the few that lives up to its mission of giving back to our communities, and this makes me very proud as an employee.”

About Kaiser Permanente’s Summer Youth Employment Program

A Community Benefit program geared primarily at 11th and 12th grade students, SYEP has been creating opportunities for underserved high school students since 1968. The program offers paid summer work experience at Kaiser Permanente facilities throughout California, and encourages students to consider that lifelong learning and earning power begins with a high school diploma.

The SYEP focuses on health care careers that are in demand. The program offers a well-rounded program that helps prepare students for an exciting future in health care. To learn more, visit: https://epf.kp.org/wps/portal/hrpublic/home/syep_scal_ncal

Related Stories:

Summer Program Provides a Lifeline for One Student (video): http://community.kp.org/be-inspired/story/summer-program-provides-a-lifeline-for-one-student

Bright Futures Ahead for Dozens of Inner City Students: http://community.kp.org/be-inspired/story/its-bright-futures-ahead-for-dozens-of-inner-city-students