Ayona West poses in front of the heart and lung center at Jewish Hospital. | Photo by Boris Ladwig

University of Louisville incoming sophomore Ayona West, 18, in the last few weeks has witnessed a gallbladder surgery and medical staff scrambling to save the life of a patient whose heart had stopped.

West, a Louisville native, also has received some hands-on training — taking patients’ temperatures, checking their glucose levels, keeping track of their vital signs — as she works toward becoming a certified nursing assistant, which she hopes is but a step on her journey toward becoming a doctor.

The duPont Manual grad is one of four interns at Jewish Hospital who received some expanded pre-internship training this year through a two-week workshop at Jewish Family & Career Services. That training, funded by a $2,000 KentuckianaWorks grant as part of Mayor Greg Fischer’s SummerWorks program, introduced interns to hospital rules, imparted communication and conflict resolution skills, and helped them with résumé building and interviewing skills.

“It has been a wonderful experience,” West said. “It’s pushed me more into what I love.”

Early career choice

Ayona West | Courtesy of Instagram

West said that at a young age she had narrowed her career choices to two: model or doctor. As she did not reach a height of 5 feet 11 inches, it became clear she would become a doctor, she said with a laugh Thursday as she sat in the Wall Street Deli inside the Jewish Hospital complex.

Her motivation to enter the medical field stems, at least in part, from an illness in her family. Her sister, Karen, 23, has cerebral palsy, and West initially wanted to become a neurosurgeon. She changed her mind when she learned how many years of study that would require. She now plans to focus on plastic and reconstructive surgery.

Her motivation to pursue a tough career also comes from her overachieving siblings: Sister Raven, 23, works in stocks, sister Leigh-Anne works with children with intellectual disabilities, and her brother Darren, 17, plans to join the U.S. Navy.

West enjoys helping people in other ways, too. She had initially planned to serve as a lifeguard this summer — as she did last summer — but changed her mind after her mother told her about and encouraged her to apply for the internship at the hospital.

Pre-internship training

Before she was dispatched to the hospital, Jewish Family & Career Services put her through a two-week job readiness workshop that included training on how to effectively communicate and how to resolve conflicts, said Kendall Thirlwell, employment program manager at JFCS.

JFCS also partnered with the Louisville Society for Human Resource Management to provide mock interviews with the interns. The goal was to properly prepare the interns for their internship so they could get the most out of the experience and to improve their chances of landing a job, Thirlwell said.

The pilot program began with six interns, but two dropped out for health reasons, she said. Three of the remaining participants work in patient transport, which means they help get patients to different areas, and they get to shadow and learn from nurses.

Eryn Heakin, youth and young adult career counselor at JFCS, said Jewish hospital provided the interns with mentors, including the hospital’s head of surgery, which has given the interns an up-close look at potential health care careers.

“They’re getting some really interesting experiences,” Heakin said. “It’s been a really good way to get them exposed to the different positions in health care.”

Mentoring

Rabbi Nadia Siritsky

Rabbi Nadia Siritsky, vice president of mission for Jewish Hospital, said the expanded partnership with JFCS satisfied the hospital’s mission to help young people obtain the skills they need for success — and it also addressed the labor shortage in the health care industry.

“This summer internship seemed like the perfect opportunity,” Siritsky said.

The mentors, including physical therapists, doctors and nurses, provided interns with an up-close look at the work and information about the academic path that might enable them to have a career in the health field — but also prompted discussions about everyday challenges, such as how to balance life and work.

Siritsky said that while the teaching hospital includes education and preparing the leaders of tomorrow as part of its mission, the internships are allowing a broader set of professionals with the opportunity to serve as mentors and give back to the community.

“It was really very rewarding for … all of our team members,” she said.

West said that she especially enjoyed viewing her mentor, surgeon Philip Rosenbloom, perform a gallbladder surgery.

“It was wonderful,” she said. “I was so amazed.”

She was fascinated by seeing the procedure itself and the video transmitted by the small camera that was inserted into the patient’s body.

She’s proud that she did not pass out or get queasy while watching the procedure, she said, though some other experiences at the hospital that involved bodily fluids had a stronger effect on her.

“Toughened my stomach, definitely,” she said.

West said that working at the hospital also has kept her on her toes, in part because of the amount and variety of work that has to be done.

“Anything can happen in the blink of an eye,” she said.

She recently was in a patient’s room with other health care providers when an alarm signaled that the patient needed to be resuscitated. Within seconds, the room filled with more doctors and nurses who saved the patient.

Her favorite part of the experience, she said, has been building relationships with the medical professionals and the patients.

Expansion

Officials with JFCS and KentuckyOne Health, which owns Jewish Hospital, said they hope to continue and expand their collaboration, but are still figuring out how to fund it going forward. Over the summer, the interns are paid by KentuckianaWorks, which provides each of the interns $2,500.

West, a self-described foodie (who recommends Café Mimosa, Vietnam Kitchen and Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint) and traveler who loves going to museums (especially the KMAC) will be a sophomore at UofL in the fall, majoring in psychology on a pre-med track. She plans to continue to work part-time with KentuckyOne.

Boris Ladwig
Boris Ladwig is a reporter with more than 20 years of experience and has won awards from multiple journalism organizations in Indiana and Kentucky for feature series, news, First Amendment/community affairs, nondeadline news, criminal justice, business and investigative reporting. As part of The (Columbus, Indiana) Republic’s staff, he also won the Kent Cooper award, the top honor given by the Associated Press Managing Editors for the best overall news writing in the state. A graduate of Indiana State University, he is a soccer aficionado (Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln), singer and travel enthusiast who has visited countries on five continents. He speaks fluent German, rudimentary French and bits of Spanish, Italian, Khmer and Mandarin.