Grady Health System Teen Experience and Leadership Program

Grady Health System | Atlanta, GA

The Background

Located in Atlanta, Grady Memorial Hospital is the fifth largest public hospital in the US. It serves a six-county area, primarily focusing on serving the underserved and uninsured population in Georgia. Grady is a 953-bed health system with 7,251 staff members. Recognizing a large demographic gap between their employee and patient populations, Grady’s leadership learned that the staff was interested in bridging that gap and in getting more local students engaged in health care careers.

Development and Progression of the Teen Experience and Leadership Program

Before the pandemic, Grady Health System already had a small teen volunteer program in which students gained exposure to careers in health care. When Senior Vice President and Inaugural Chief Health Equity Officer Yolanda Wimberly, M.D., joined Grady Health System, she recognized the keen inquisitiveness of the teenagers whom she cared for as a pediatrician and adolescent medicine physician. Impassioned by the curiosity rising from these teens and her deep commitment to education, Wimberly used her position at Grady to create the Teen Experience and Leadership Program (TELP). 

Basing the development of the new initiative on an existing program allowed the TELP team to hit the ground running. Dr. Wimberly’s vision rapidly expanded the scope of the program to engage teen volunteers in clinical and non-clinical roles. With the blessing of Grady’s CEO, Wimberly first met with unit staff to learn about their work and to introduce them to her vision for the program. Grady has over 200 staff volunteers, so the program requires support from members and departments across the organization. Even from the beginning, the majority of units were enthused and wanted to participate. 

The experience of months of careful planning provided a grounding in practicality. Wimberly was determined to ensure that contingencies were in place to forestall workforce shortages and avoid other challenges to staff participation that could deplete resources and weaken commitment. It is clear now and substantiated that TELP leadership will support participating units if issues arise. With knowledge of that assurance, the units are committed to providing an exceptional experience for the teens to learn what health care careers entail. 

Initial Success and Lessons Learned

Grady began advertising the program with virtual meet and greets for high school students and their parents. TELP's pilot in 2022 saw 35 students participate, growing to 236 in 2023 from a pool of 400 applicants. 

The program involves 42 hospital units available for rotation, including clinical and nonclinical units, such as human resources, finance and legal compliance, among others. Grady wanted to ensure that all students, regardless of their schedules, would be able to engage in the experience. TELP offers considerable flexibility in time commitment, with the minimum being eight hours every two weeks. Students choose from several shifts held seven days each week in order to accommodate students’ busy schedules with school, work, sports and other commitments. With the autonomy to structure their own experience, students select the number of shifts they attend and choose the units they want to experience from the wide variety offered. One student participated in 27 different units; other participants chose to attend the same unit every day.  

The large number of units participating ensures that the workload can be well distributed throughout the hospital, as well. The employees are excited to mentor the teens; that excitement is the fuel that propels TELP staff to continue innovating. 

The surprising growth in the first year of the program was one of the biggest challenges for Grady. Despite a small marketing campaign in 2023, Grady received 433 applications and had to dismiss hundreds of potential participants. Nonetheless, even with the limited placements, the task of tracking the number of teenagers and assignments is significant. Soon after the first year began, Grady staff realized that they needed a dedicated liaison for each unit to coordinate the student experiences on a daily basis. 

Many participants express interest in returning to TELP the next summer, which prompts the team to identify and develop ways to accommodate even more participants. The TELP team’s diligent measurement of the program’s progress is focused on tracking participants who pursue health care careers. The database of past TELP participants serves as a conduit to greater enrollment as the TELP staff continue to identify training and career opportunities that excite and shape the next generation of health professionals.

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The health care field needs workers, and the demand will increase even more in the years to come. Grady Health System realized that accessing a key demographic could unlock solutions to these labor shortages. In this conversation, Grady Health System’s Yolanda Wimberly, M.D., senior vice president and chief health equity officer, and Felicia Mobley, Ph.D., director of health equity, discuss their new teen experience and leadership program, and how providing hands-on internships for local teens is helping to build its workforce pipeline for decades to come.

Listen to the Podcast