Health Care Ladder Opens Career Opportunities to Omaha's Latino Community
Selene Espinoza and an intern share the benefits the Career Health Care Ladder program can provide. (Lily Smith/The Omaha World-Herald)
An immigrant pursuing the American dream, Saida Selene Espinoza arrived in Omaha, Nebraska, with her family from Mexico when she was 14. She endured the struggles of speaking no English, financial hardship and a sense of not belonging.
Selene’s family, though, saw her passion for helping others and her interest in health care and encouraged her to pursue an education. She was the first member of her family to graduate high school and college and then became a surgical assistant. She now works at CHI Midlands Hospital located in Papillion, Nebraska and is also a member of its community board.
Interns from the Career Health Care Ladder program, funded by CHI Health based in Omaha, Nebraska, visit the CHI Midlands Hospital operating room.
Unfortunately, little has changed for the next generation. Camila Delgado Garcia, for example, served as a translator at age six when family members needed medical attention.
"It was difficult to make appointments and explain procedures or medications to adults," Camila says. "We struggled to find people who spoke Spanish to help us."
Today, less than six percent of health care workers in Omaha are Latino, and Latinos are expected to comprise nearly 25 percent of the city's population by 2050. Thanks to our Health Career Ladder CNA Program, though, Selene can train the next generation of health care workers — people like Camila.
Selene Espinoza, left, a surgical assistant with CHI Health, instructs students in a hands-on surgery workshop. They are taking part in a health internship that CHI Health offers with the Latino Center of the Midlands.
The Health Career Ladder program is funded through 2023 by a $600,000 grant from CHI's Mission and Ministry Fund. The grant expands our partnership with the Latino Center of the Midlands, focusing on community well-being and workforce education. Selene guides a six-week paid internship that brings 24 high school seniors into CHI Midlands Hospital, clinics and physician groups to shadow doctors, nurses and technicians.
"My main focus is to create a welcoming environment for minority students and increase our diversity workforce," says Selene, who continues to work in surgery while serving as CNA Director/Human Resources Specialist. "To have our students do shadowing makes them feel welcome. They want to come back and want to learn more."
Selene Espinoza, CHI Health surgical assistant, and Camila Delgado Garcia, one of the first interns in the collaborative program. Camila is now pursuing a career in the dental field.
Following the internship, Selene helps students apply for a six-week certified nursing assistant program at Metro Community College. The grant also covers tuition, books and materials and guarantees a year of employment at CHI Health. She expects as many as 18 to begin CNA training this fall.
Camila was in the first group of interns in 2021 and completed the CNA program while a senior in high school. She enrolled at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and hopes to become a dental hygienist.
"I started the program thinking about nurses, doctors and pharmacists, but we learned about engineers who create prosthetics and technicians who perform ultrasounds and other careers you don't think about," Camila says.
Camila Delgado Garcia’s exploration of careers in health care started with an internship program offered in Omaha by the Latino Center of the Midlands and CHI Health. (Photo courtesy of Lily Smith/Omaha World-Herald.)
In five years, she hopes to work as a hygienist, "fulfilling the dream and filling the gap, offering comfort to patients who can see someone who looks like them."
Selene looks forward to expanding the program to include refugees and other underserved communities in Omaha. "These students are talented and very intelligent but need educational opportunities like this program," Selene says.
She adds that the program's goal is "building that trust, connecting students to people who look like themselves and bringing them into this experience. Representation matters."