September 22, 2023


education gives you strength

Ascend offers a pathway to health-care careers for young adults in need

Kameron Chandler discovered Ascend on Facebook. The job training program serves teens to young adults. At 24, Chandler was in her last year of eligibility. She signed up right away.

The Porter resident worked in retail as a shift manager during the day, with a night job at a sports bar. But she had long wanted a career in health care. When Chandler was pregnant with her son, she knew something had to give — and soon.


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“I wanted to find something different,” she said. “I couldn’t keep working 16-hour shifts.”

Besides, she wanted to pursue her dreams. Ascend offered her the motivation she needed to move forward. The program provides high school graduates an opportunity and resources to pursue health care jobs through monthly orientations, which cover career possibilities, job training and professional development and workshops to bolster job readiness and networking skills.

The program also helps participants enroll in local community colleges to earn certification. And Ascend offers job search assistance through Baylor College of Medicine and other affiliated hospitals in the Texas Medical Center.

Chandler was drawn to the program because she wanted an advocate to rely on as she moved forward on a journey to change her career.

“They extend themselves to help you,” she said. “They’re with you every step of the way. You’re not in it alone.”

Chandler recently earned her certification in electrocardiography at Lone Star College.

“Now it’s time to find a job and just keep this going,” Chandler said.

Once she secures employment, Chandler hopes to pursue a two-year program in cardiac sonography and then study neurosonography.

Reginald Hatter, director of Ascend, admires Chandler for her dedication — finishing school during COVID-19, while also being a mother with a young son.

“It’s very courageous, going back to school,” he said. “I’m very proud of her and all of our students at Ascend.”

Hatter began working with Ascend while it was in its infancy — and is excited about the opportunity to help 18- to 24-year-olds learn about opportunities in the field.

“It’s hard to know what you want to do if you’re never presented with the options,” he said. “We provide opportunities for employment in health care for people who never thought they could get into this field.”

Dr. Peggy Smith, director of the Teen Health Clinic, which launched the program, explained that a main goal is to bring young adults to the Texas Medical Center and expose them to the wide variety of job opportunities at Baylor College of Medicine.

“They may live in Houston and still never have been to the Texas Medical Center,” she said. “This is a huge job opportunity, but we’ve got to help them connect the dots.”

Hatter sees the program as a first step for many.

“We’re showing that you can be in a hospital,” he said “You’re around doctors and nurses — and you can do that, too.”

Many times, participants were previously unaware of job opportunities in hospitals that don’t require years in medical school.

Hatter also stressed the importance of seeing diversity in the medical field. Many Ascend participants belong to minority groups — and benefit from discovering that doctors, nurses and staff do as well.

Smith, who is also a professor of obstetrics and gynecology, is the founder of Baylor Teen Health Clinic. Part of the genesis for the zero- to low-cost clinic, offering confidential care for young adults, came with the spike in teen pregnancy rates in the 1960s and 1970s.

“For the longest time, pregnancy was the number one reason young women dropped out of school,” she explained. “It also affected their ability to participate in the workforce.”

The clinic focused on preventing teen pregnancies. When the spike decreased, the mission pivoted to offering primary care, immunizations, physicals, well-child exams, mental health services and reproductive care.

Ascend is a logical progression of providing services to young people to maximize their potential, to find meaningful positions and not just a job.

Changing a young adult’s career can literally promote their health and well-being, Smith said.

In the 1990s, she joined forces with Anne Van Horn to create Project Bootstrap at Baylor Teen Health Clinic, which provided educational opportunities and job training for young fathers. In time, the program evolved into a new venture, Ascend, which launched in July 2018; 48 students have completed the program to date.

Ascend responds to the need for medical professionals in Houston — particularly for in-demand positions, like certified nurse aids, EKG technicians, phlebotomists or medical business office professionals.

Van Horn believes students need more than employment. “They needed not just a job but a pathway to a career,” she explained.

The program partners with community colleges for educational opportunities and offers access to tutors and stipends as a way to eliminate barriers.

Still, only a handful of students can participate in the program. Students with one other obstacle — like child care, housing or transportation — are encouraged to apply. The program can provide a ride if transportation is a challenge.

Ascend provides its full attention to advancing upward mobility of its participants.

“They’re stepping out of their comfort zones,” Van Horn said. “This is a real leap. We give them the resources to ensure success. We also follow up with them for a year afterward.”

And, Van Horn noted, this helps the Medical Center, too. “We need a workforce,” Van Horn said.

Ascend can provide the employees so needed at the hospitals — especially during the current shortage in health care workers.

“There are well-paying jobs, and they’re career-based,” Van Horn said. “It changes their lives, but they’ve got to first find a door.”

Smith added that employment can boost self-esteem and self-worth — as well as provide a vehicle to health insurance and income for young adults.

“But first you’ve got to get them out the gate,” she said.

Lindsay Peyton is a Houston-based freelance writer.

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