India Davis, 16, grew up watching her two uncles, an aunt, a grandmother, and a great-grandmother suffer from kidney stones. It’s what makes her want to be a nephrologist—a kidney doctor—and why you may see her wearing a bright green shirt and sitting behind the security desk of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital (MLKCH).
India, along with three other students from nearby King/Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science, are the first group of high schoolers to join our hospital’s new Summer Junior Volunteers Program. Her job, along with classmates Brisa Bernal, Lavelle DeHughes, and Elizabeth Orkeh, is to greet visitors and ensure they get the information they need. It’s also to drink in the atmosphere of a working hospital in hopes it will inspire these high school juniors and seniors to pursue a career in medicine—preferably here in South LA where there is a dire shortage of doctors.
India wants to fill the doctor gap in her hometown of Compton. “A lot of people don’t like to go to the hospital because it’s scary or they think the doctors won’t understand their problems,” she says. “Me being someone who has a lot of family who’ve been affected by kidney problems well, maybe they’ll see me as someone they can relate to.”
For students who have mostly learned about medicine through their textbooks, working at MLKCH is a crash course in the reality of what it means to be a caregiver.
“It makes me feel like it’s real life. It’s time. You gotta wake up,” says Lavelle.
It’s also fun, the volunteers say. “The people at MLKCH are so nice,” says Elizabeth. “They’re happy to be here. They honestly care about how you are.”
“It’s nurturing and very warm here,” adds India. “People always speak to me and say hi and we crack jokes with the security staff and that what makes my volunteer hours go so fast.”
All four students found out about the MLKCH pilot program for high school volunteers from their chemistry teacher, Tatiana Hatchett, who also volunteers at the hospital. For now, the program is only open to King/Drew students, although that may change in the future.
“We’re trying to encourage local kids because these are the next generation of doctors and nurses,” says MLKCH’s Karina Cervantes, who coordinates the adult and teen volunteer programs. “It’s a service opportunity but it’s also a chance to see how a large, complex hospital works.”