Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici visits local Latina healthcare camp

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: RYAN LACKEY - In her talk to the campers, Congresswoman Bonamici emphasized empowerment and self-perception. An old cliché says that politics is about shaking hands and kissing babies—and, apparently, helping birth them.

On Thursday, July 21, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) visited the Chicas Healthcare Careers Camp at Pacific University, run by Forest Grove nonprofit Adelante Mujeres, to give high-school Latina girls hands-on health-care experience, with emphasis on the “hands-on.”

“We reached out to her and she said wanted to come talk to the camp today because of the birthing simulation,” said Marina Alvarez, site facilitator for Adalente Mujeres.

With Bonamici looking on, eight campers assisted an emergency delivery — not a real one, of course, but pretty close. Working with mannequins — the same ones doctors and healthcare specializes use for training — campers practiced infant delivery, assisted by staff from Kaiser Permanente, which provided the mannequins.

The process was remarkably realistic: placed below a real person sitting against a wall, the mannequin, a simulated woman’s abdomen, gave “birth” to another, smaller mannequin, complete with simulated blood, fluids, afterbirth — even a fake placenta.

But the birthing simulation is only one of many hands-on experiences provided for the campers. Funded by a $20,000 grant from Kaiser, the camp is free for the 23 girls who signed up and runs all week. On the other days, explained Alvarez, campers learn about a variety of healthcare careers and specializations: translation, medical imaging and cultural competency, among others.

“We had a midwife come in,” Alvarez said, “along with a woman who was pregnant, and (the midwife) demonstrated some of what she does for the camp. They learn about mental health, too. A behavioralist came in to talk with them.”NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: RYAN LACKEY - A specialized mannequin torso let campers assist with a simulated delivery.

All the campers are CPR-certified by the time camp ends, and Alvarez hopes the experience will encourage at least some to pursue careers in healthcare where, according to Bonamici, they’re badly needed.

“We need more women, more diversity, not just in healthcare but in technology and especially in my job,” Bonamici said in her talk with the campers, asking them to note the lack of representation for women. “Oregon has two senators and five representatives. Can anyone guess how many Oregon women there are in Congress?”

Estimates varied: one girl said three, another said five. One especially optimistic camper guessed that all seven were women.

“Just one,” Bonamici said. “Just me.” She went on to address some of the societal challenges women, especially young women, still must overcome—challenges she hopes the campers can grow up and rectify. One big challenge, she said, is self-perception.

“There's a confidence gap," said Bonamici. "Women often feel like they need to be 100 percent” when in the professional world. “A man sometimes will look at a list of 100 qualifications and be satisfied having 50; a woman will say, ‘Oh, no, I only have 98.’”

To that end, the Chicas Healthcare Careers Camp and similar projects hope not only to introduce more women into flourishing careers and lives, but also to make them feel like they belong there.

Alvarez noted she attended a similar camp in high school, also at Pacific. Though she didn’t end up in healthcare, the experience encouraged her to work to offer the opportunity to others. The partnership with Kaiser, she said, helps expand what they’re able to do.

“We were one of the first Chicas funders,” said Tracy Dannen-Grace, Kaiser’s director of community partnerships and philanthropy. “We gave a three-year grant in 2008 to help the program get started.”

Chicas, which focuses on young Latinas, now includes more than 450 girls and is led by strong women — an often scarce resource.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: RYAN LACKEY - Bonamici singled out the lack of paid parental leave and rising college costs as signifacnt obstacles to female and minority representation.

“There are two things: a lack of role models and of opportunity,” Bonamici said. “There’s not enough diversity for the kids to see. We need women and minority leaders, and we have a role to play in making college more affordable and accessible. It’s harder to be what you can’t see.”

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