Physician-led Orthopaedic Hospital in downtown Los Angeles returned to its roots with a ribbon-cutting ceremony today for the $42 million Orthopaedic Hospital Medical Magnet High School. A goal of the joint project with the Los Angeles public school system is to begin training future medical professionals, starting in the 9th grade.
James Luck, M.D., president, chief executive officer and medical director of Orthopaedic Hospital said partnering with the high school is a move back to the future for the hospital, which was founded in 1911 as a clinic to treat crippled children. The downtown hospital building opened in 1922 as Orthopaedic Hospital-School.
"In those days, the treatments took so long, they'd be here for a whole year," Luck said, so a school within the hospital was a necessity. That arrangement ended in 1950, but Luck said the idea for a magnet school resurfaced during planning sessions as part of the hospital's 1998 alliance with the UCLA Center for Health Sciences.
The school is on property adjacent to the hospital and on the same block as a technical college with a nursing program. Classes begin Sept. 9 with 450 students in the 9th and 10th grades. Grade levels will be added as students advance. In two years, the school should reach its projected 9th-through-12th-grade enrollment of 762 students.
Half of the students will be drawn from across the Los Angeles Unified School District, which serves more than 740,000 students in kindergarten through grade 12. Half will come from an area served by overcrowded Jefferson High School, where 92% of its 3,869 students are Hispanic.
The 72-bed inpatient portion of the hospital will move from its present site to a new facility in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2006. With that in mind, a medical magnet high school was a natural addition to the current campus, Luck said. "It wasn't a hard sell (to school authorities)," he said. "It made so much sense. You look at the mission. We've been actively involved in medical education for the last 75 years."
The hospital trains about a dozen residents and surgical fellows each year.
"If we can extend that to the high-school level and improve the health of the community, all the better," Luck said.
The hospital donated a small strip of land for the new high school campus, but no money. Its major investment will be the ongoing contributions of time and talent by faculty and staff, Luck said. For example, Luck and other staff at Orthopaedic Hospital have met monthly with a team from the school district to develop curriculum, said Rowena Lagrosa, superintendent of Local District 5, which oversees the new school.
While all students will apply for admittance and the college-prep curriculum includes four years of science, top grades are not necessary, Lagrosa said. Programs have been established to help students succeed academically and graduate regardless of their prior academic achievement, she said.
Students will spend class time in the hospital learning about various medical professions. Hospital staffers will teach courses and give lectures at the school. Students will be invited to participate in community service projects, including at a hospital clinic on the border with Mexico. And during the summer, students may be offered jobs on research projects at the hospital.
The Los Angeles Trade and Technical College next door also will offer educational opportunities for the students through its nursing program, Luck said.
The LA school system has three medical magnet schools already open, including two dating to 1982. Luck said he has toured two of the three schools and was impressed.
"They are all very successful programs," he said. "The students wear uniforms. They're happy to be there and the parents are extremely supportive." College placement rates are above 90%, and many of the students enter the medical profession after graduation, Luck said.
Lagrosa said the three existing healthcare magnet programs have seen graduates become doctors, nurses and healthcare workers in a variety of positions. "A large percentage of the students enter careers in the healthcare field, because they see such a wide range of possibilities," she said.
The contacts students make often lead to internships and initial jobs in the field, Lagrosa said.
Orthopaedic Hospital stresses diversity in employment and service, Luck said. Hispanics make up about 60% of pediatric patients (today, the hospital also serves adults). The likelihood of attracting Hispanics to the medical profession through the school is a bonus. "Frankly, minority representation in orthopedic surgery is a national priority, and this school could help with that," he said.
Luck is a past president of the California Orthopaedic Association and a former board member of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the American Orthopaedic Association.
After a 54-year hiatus, Luck said the hospital is ready to get back into high school.
"We're really looking forward to it," he said. "The benefits will go far beyond the local community."