Bekka Tani has an unusual way of spending the after-school hours. She doesn’t hang out with friends, and she doesn’t attend school events at Freedom High School like other kids her age do.
Instead, the 17-year-old high school student heads to St. Luke’s campus in Bethlehem to work in the emergency room. She transports patients to nursing units. Take vital signs. She even helps nurses connect patients with chest pain to EKGs and run a diagnostic test on them to see if they’re having a heart attack.
Not far from the ER, Brandon Koch cleans the heat treatments and air conditioning in his patient care unit to get them ready for the cooling season. At 18 years old and a senior in high school, this maintenance mechanic apprentice gets his hands on his feet and acquires marketable skills as he prepares for work life after high school.
Tani, of Bethlehem, and Coach, of Northampton, are among selected students from area secondary schools and the Bethlehem District School of Audio Technology (BAVTS) enrolled in the new Vo-Tech Co-Op program at St. A job while getting paid. This win-win arrangement with school districts, in place since last December, gives aspiring teens a chance to work in a field they’ve identified as a potential career.
The Vo-Tech Co-Op supports St. Luke’s supply of outstanding employees who we hope will remain in or return to the hospital after college, or other training, to fill positions that require higher skills to fill hard-to-recruit roles. Georgina Winfield, Network Director of Volunteer Services and Student Relations.
“This collaboration allows students to complete additional competencies coordinated between hospital and school,” said Connie Moshko, School-to-Professional BAVTS School Coordinator. “With both institutions supporting student participation in the classroom and hospital, they are entering the workforce in an advanced position as they participate in this wonderful educational experience.”
The emergency room is a perfect fit for Taney.
“This is my future profession as a nurse,” she said with a confident and elegant smile. “There is so much to see and learn here, something every day.”
Tani plans to study nursing at the University of Desales next year.
Students spend four hours each or several days of the week, practicing their new skills while learning about people and places throughout the hospital. There is a lot to learn, but you can tell they are up to the task.
Winfield said students like Tani are taking the Health Careers course at vo-tech. Then they “implemented it at SLUHN with the help and encouragement of nurses and administrators in the units to which they were assigned.”
Hut learns to build at BAVTS. He is passionate about working and learning at Saint Luke, which could become a career for him.
Art Steward, plant operations supervisor, said people like Koch are key to keeping the hospital running smoothly. Should know: Graduated from BAVTS. Steward has worked at St Luke’s for 41 years and plans to retire in the next two years. Other engineering employees who have worked for a long time have the same plans to move away from their jobs soon, so the need for replacement is high.
But Steward is proud and optimistic that these youngsters will be able to carry on in the skilled shoes of the 50 “zone mechanics” that St. Luke’s employs. During the workday, they may do plumbing, carpentry, paint, electrical work, and more with guidance from Steward, area mechanic Jose Mangual, or Frank Miravich.
“They do a great job, learn quickly and use good communication and customer service skills,” said Steward.
A second supervisor/teacher, Emergency Department Manager Matt Weintraub, MSN, MBA, is pleased with her attitude, competence, and interpersonal skills.
“She’s special, lively and wonderful,” he declared. “She learns quickly, like a sponge.”
Tani was part of the Vo-Tech Co-Op for only two months, but was actually invited to watch how to correct a shockingly irregular heartbeat. You have been traumatized or witnessed how seriously injured patients are resuscitated.
“The opportunities for students are second to none,” said Jennifer Stellgenbauer, BAVTS Health Careers coach, RN, BSN. “They get real-world experiences in their field of choice while getting paid, and help fill hospital vacancies. Current and future BAVTS students can see where a technical education can take them too.”
Said Winfield: “We bring them in and hopefully we’ll eventually hire them. They can stay here right after graduation or during college if they want to. …they get a foot in the door here, and that could turn into a career.”
Note: This local health news is brought to you in partnership with Saint Luke’s University Health Network.