It pays to take your medicine

Luis Pioquinto,  17, of Amityville High School, boards the bus each weekday morning to school in order to expand his knowledge of the medical field. Each day there, he wears a white lab coat, his uniform for the program he attends.

But unlike other kids who go to school for free, Luis gets paid $40 a day, which adds up to $200 a week.

HCOP's Luis Pioquinto

H.C.O.P's Luis Pioquinto / Photo by Ian Berry

“I honestly did not care about the salary,” said Luis, who is part of the Health Careers Opportunity Program at Stony Brook University. “Regardless if I were getting a salary or not, you’re still learning about the health profession. It’s something that I want to do and I know that I want to do, so it’s a goal I have in life. So the salary really means nothing.”

Stony Brook is not the first school to offer students such an opportunity.  The University of Maryland School of Medicine offers $416 a week to their students for a program that is similar.  The HCOP program for dentistry, at Temple University Health Sciences Center, offers its students the same amount of money that Stony Brook offers their students.

But are they in it for the money or are they in it for the education? Not everyone approached the program like Luis did. “I’m not going to lie,’’ said student Lorenz Roberts, 16, of Brentwood. “That was one of the reasons I wanted to do the program. But then as I learned more about what the program was and what we learned … I see that the paycheck is not really as big of a deal … it’s more of an added bonus.”

But why pay students to go to school when they can do it for free ? The management director of the program, Carlos Vidal, said the program was created to insure the future of health care.  “They recognized,” said Vidal, of the program’s creators, “there was going to be a shortage in this field.”

Erick Flynn, educational specialist, agreed. “America needs more allied health professionals. As we get older these are recession-proof job, guaranteed employment essential for these students that complete these certifications.”

As to whether the money and energy put into this is worth it, Carlos Vidal said he believes the program is extremely beneficial and does in fact work. “Five of the students that attended this HCOP academy last year are students who are registered to come to the university,”  he said.

Vidal also said that because baby boomers are near retirement, the country will need a large amount of individuals working in the medical field.  “You take a look at the population,” Vidal said, “they’re getting older and, you’ve heard that phrase before, but there’s also a diversity in that population as well. And so in trying to create this pipeline, I think [it] was a bold step on the part of this faculty to recognize that there was funding available to pursue a grant that would address the issue. “

Students also seemed to realize they have received so much more from the program. They mentioned learning many amazing and exciting things. One of the students said they could not believe how many more careers there were other than the cliché nurse and doctor.  It also allowed students to realize whether a future in the medical field was for them.

But, above all, they said the friendships they have made will always stay with them.  The director shares the same opinion. “We never paid them money to make friends,” said Vidal, “and they made friends.”