The Spark! Challenge: Educating high school students for future healthcare careers
The 5th annual Spark! Challenge was larger than ever with 74 Northwell teams, and 900 students participating throughout the year! Students from high schools across Long Island, Staten Island, Westchester and New York City were able to directly experience and explore the wide variety of careers available in healthcare. By connecting students, educators, and Northwell Health professionals, the Spark! Challenge is helping to reach, engage and inspire students to consider some traditional and non-traditional healthcare careers.
We talked to Northwell team members who hosted students at their sites, as well as the teachers of the visiting schools to hear how the Spark! Challenge makes an impact on our students.
Staten Island University Hospital (SIUH) – North Campus
At Staten Island University Hospital’s (SIUH) North Campus, students from St. Joseph Hill Academy participated in a mock trauma with life-like mannequins. After exciting tours of the OR and ICU, students also had the opportunity to meet and talk with the surgical team.
Jennifer Pla, St. Joseph Hill Academy teacher, was impressed by the engagement the students had with the doctors and nurses, “It gave students insight into the ongoing education that is necessary for healthcare practitioners to keep their skills sharp and improve patient care. The hands-on activities in the simulation lab allowed students to learn firsthand how difficult and technical these life-saving skills are to perform correctly.”
“The mock trauma scenario provides the ED staff with necessary simulation drills and the students love the realness of the mannequin,” says Anne Marie McDonough, senior director of Rehab Services at SIUH, “Students had an in-depth opportunity to talk with the trauma surgery staff, and they asked some fabulous questions!”
Students from Mepham High School partnered with local EMS services for a demonstration of a distracted driver with an overturned vehicle. With help from the EMS team and Syosset staff, students extracted “patients” in a hands-on scenario, then toured the emergency department and ambulance.
“We had an amazing experience that started with a simulated car accident. The fire department actually cut a ‘driver’ out of the car and followed him through the emergency department,” says Peter Steckle, Mepham High School teacher. “Students got a chance to interact with doctors and healthcare professionals to perform tasks like casting and a laparoscopic procedure. It was an experience they will never forget.”
Debra Clifford, BSN, RN, MHA, director of Patient Care Services has participated in the Spark! Challenge at Syosset Hospital for the past three years, “The Spark! Challenge provides students an opportunity through hands-on simulation to learn about careers in healthcare and has opened pathways for students to volunteer with healthcare professionals, and pursue fields that they may not have previously considered.”
Plainview Hospital’s Spark! Challenge visit gave Bellmore-Merrick CHSD students an interactive experience in the Food & Nutrition Department. From culinary arts and menu design to clinical nutrition and planning, students received an introduction to the culinary world in healthcare before ending the day with a cooking competition.
“Nothing ever becomes real until it is experienced,” says Michael DiGiovanni, CTE teacher and chef instructor at the Culinary Hospitality Applied Management Program (CHAMP) at Bellmore-Merrick CHSD, “The lessons that our students learned from the chef, cooks, and nutritionists at Northwell made their knowledge of culinary arts real and enticing. The Spark! Challenge experience demonstrated the enjoyment and sensibility of this ever-growing industry.”
Eric Sieden, director of Nutrition and Food Services at Glen Cove, Plainview and Syosset Hospitals agreed, “Our Food & Nutrition team was so excited to be able to host and share their experiences with the culinary students. Through their interactions with the cooking staff, students were able to see how Northwell is providing nutritious-restaurant quality meals to a population that deserves and appreciates it. When I was their age, the Spark! Challenge is something I would have loved and definitely benefited from.”
North Shore University Hospital
At North Shore University Hospital, students from Baldwin High School learned about all of the different career opportunities that exist within nutrition and culinary. Team members led them in a tour of the department before challenging them to cook a healthy meal.
Donna Prager, the Family and Consumer Science teacher at Baldwin High School says, “The Spark! Challenge provides an amazing opportunity to gain hands-on experience in a hospital atmosphere. Students have benefited from interacting with professionals in the culinary and nutrition fields and has helped many students solidify their anticipated career path.”
“The Spark! Challenge is always a great day for our team and the students. We all look forward each year to see the future of healthcare in these passionate students. They get so invested in the cook-off that we host each year,” says Michael Kiley, director of Nutrition and Dining Services at North Shore University Hospital, “It is so gratifying to hear a student determine their career by this program, and we have been fortunate enough to have students tell us that because of the Spark! program they made the decision to go to culinary school. What more can you ask for?”
Hear from our students on why they love the Spark! Challenge:
“The Spark! Challenge allowed me to see how medicine is progressing as new technologies are created. I now know that there are various fields throughout the medical profession which are necessary to be able to take care of patients including medical simulation technicians.”
Cayla CruzSt Joseph Hill Academy Student
“The Spark! Challenge was an eye opening experience that allowed me to expand my knowledge of the different aspects of the culinary field that I wish to pursue.”
Timothy SimsBaldwin High School Student
“The Spark! Challenge has taught me valuable lessons about not only the medical field but also teamwork. Every department comes together like a puzzle in order to create a perfect picture of healthcare. Without teams such as the sterilization unit, the scrub nurse would not be able to provide the proper instruments, which ultimately affects the surgeon. With this information, I do not only feel more prepared for the medical field, but also I am more eager to become a part of such an exciting and successful career.”
Megan PoserTottenville High School Student
“The Spark! Challenge at Staten Island University Hospital offered great exposure to students like myself who were not familiar with the field of medical simulation technology. My eyes have been opened to a new facet of medicine I would not have been introduced to otherwise and a new appreciation for professionals in this field.”
Hanna JonathanSt. Joseph Hill Academy Student
“My overall experience with Spark! has immensely impacted my future and specifically influenced my future career decision in surgery. Watching the entire OR staff contributing to the health of the patients made me realize that in the future, I would like to use my individual skills such as leadership and multitasking to contribute into saving my patients life”
Veronica RzeszutkoTottenville High School Students
“Scrubbing in and seeing a surgery was definitely a highlight of all the trips I have been to throughout the med tech program. This reinforced my motivation to be a member of the medical field and even caused me to consider a career as a CRNA. Also, touring the different departments was a great insight on how medical professionals work daily and utilize different technology. All in all I felt very privileged to be part of such a great opportunity.”
Sarah QuraishiTottenville High School Student
“Spending the day at Staten Island University Hospital was truly a great experience! From seeing the residents in action during their trauma rounds to intubating simulated patients, overall I enjoyed gaining knowledge and learning about the various specialties of the hospital.”
Gabrielle Garcia St. Joseph Hill Academy Student
“During the tour and workshop at the hospital, we were able to observe surgeries and shadow a variety of workers in the medical field and pay close attention to the responsibilities of different professions. This left a huge impact on me personally since it showed me that there’s more to the medical field than just being a doctor. There are vital roles in the medical field that most people don’t hear about and this challenge led me to discover such roles and research them. This helps me better understand the choices I make in my future in the medical field.”
Barthina GebrilTottenville High School Student
“I am extremely grateful to have been able to participate in the Spark! Challenge at Staten Island University Hospital. I was able to observe a trauma simulation conducted by the trauma team, as well as hear about different medical careers. I also got to work in the stimulation lab and practice intubating a patient, drilling for a vein, and putting a tourniquet on a patient.”
Chase CohenSt. Joseph Hill Academy Student
“I am very thankful for and enjoyed the experiences I have gained and the connections that I have made through the Spark! Challenge that I never would have made otherwise.”
Justin Brafman Baldwin High School Student
“My visit to Staten Island University Hospital was truly an eye-opening experience. Gaining insight from the different hospital perspectives, such as Simulation Technicians and Surgeons, broadened my knowledge about the many parts involved in running a medical center.”
Recipe for Success: Northwell’s teaching kitchens provide nutrition education for employees
At Northwell Health, we’re committed to the health and wellness of not only our patients and the communities we serve, but our team members as well.
Food is a foundation for maintaining good health, preventing sickness and maximizing clinical benefit. To help our staff learn the power of healthy food, Northwell has established free teaching kitchens across our healthcare system.
Making Nutrition Fun
Teaching kitchens combine culinary instruction with education to help participants learn which foods they should be eating more or less of and the best techniques for cooking them. Our nutrition education covers various topics including heart health, low refined sugar and high fiber. Team members are encouraged to use the same healthy and whole ingredients that Northwell chefs are using in our hospitals’ kitchens.
Employees who attend receive hands-on instruction from Northwell chefs and have the opportunity to sample a variety of nutritious food. These chefs partner closely with Northwell’s registered dietitians to host events that are not only informative but also fun. Samantha Gitlin, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian at Lenox Hill Hospital, says: “Northwell’s teaching kitchens provide the staff and community with exciting and interesting ways to include fresh, nutrient-dense ingredients and new cooking techniques into their daily lives.”
And these aren’t your typical meals! Recipes include everything from one pot Italian quinoa to Asian lettuce wraps with avocado cilantro slaw.
Bringing People Together
“We receive a lot of positive feedback,” says Katrina Hartog, MPH, RD, CDN, CHES, clinical nutrition manager, “but the most satisfying is when a participant says they’ve never tried the featured food or item, then walks away with the recipe to make it at home and sends their colleagues to participate!” The teaching kitchens have grown in popularity, and are also leveraged for for internal team building events as well as community outreach.
These lessons are just one of the education tools organized by the Food & Nutrition teams to expand cooking confidence and nutrition education for Northwell employees. Other initiatives include recruiting and developing chef and dietitians, implementing Northwell Healthy Choice nutrition criteria and staff education.
“My favorite thing is seeing how it brings everyone in the hospital together. We get participation from doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, dietitians, food service workers, and various ancillary staff,” says Bethany O’Dea, RD, CDN, CNSC, assistant clinical nutrition manager, “it is fun seeing everyone get excited about nutrition.”
The Picture of Health: Chef Russ Ficke talks about a passion for healthy food
Syosset Hospital Chef Russ Ficke has had a transformational healthcare journey as part of our team. He’s lost 50 pounds by exercising and looking at food in a different way. His drive to make healthy lifestyle changes and better food choices have also helped him become even more passionate about his work as a hospital chef. That’s why we couldn’t wait to share his perspective on our wellness initiatives, get the scoop on the quality of chefs Northwell Health is looking to hire, and hear his advice for those starting out in the culinary industry.
What’s it like to be Chef at Syosset Hospital?
It is a real honor to be able to care for people who are giving you the opportunity to make them healthier. Most of our patients at Syosset Hospital choose to come here for a procedure. They selected us over many other facilities. We must rise to the occasion in service and hospitality in every instance.
What advice do you have for someone just starting out in a career in your field?
Work hard and learn every aspect of the culinary industry — beyond dining, travel and tourism. I have worked in fine dining, catering halls, country clubs and hotels. I also taught Culinary Arts at a vocational school. There are many institutional facets of this industry. By accumulating knowledge of these various business lines, I am a more rounded chef.
What should people know about your team? How does this speak to the quality of chefs that Northwell Health is looking to hire?
I am grateful to work with a group of professionals who share the same focus: providing world-class service to our patients, visitors, and coworkers. I partner with my leadership team, as well as with the clinical nutrition team, to assure we are delivering the best service. I spend a lot of time with my culinary team teaching them new techniques, trends, and skills. I even learn things from them.
What is Northwell’s Ultimate Chef Competition?
Chefs from 17 of Northwell Health hospitals have competed in the Ultimate Chef Healthy Cooking Competition for the past seven years at Glen Cove Hospital. Chefs are challenged with serving up delicious, restaurant-quality meals, but without the added high fat, calories or sodium. I have three first-place finishes and a third-place finish. For the past two years, I’ve helped run the event instead of competing in it.
Each appetizer and dessert had to be less than 250 calories with no more than 250 milligrams of sodium and less than 35 percent total calories from fat. Entrees needed to be under 450 calories, with no more than 500 milligrams of sodium and 35 percent of total calories from fat. Teams are also sometimes given a mystery ingredient to incorporate into their original three-course meal.
How do you as a Chef promote Northwell Health’s commitment to wellness?
Northwell health is committed to providing healthy meals and options to our 66,000+ employees. This focus on wellness extends from our patients to our cafeterias and internal catering, all the way to our vending machines. We also provide educational sessions and cooking classes around these initiatives to promote healthier nutrition.
What is something that people should know about Northwell Health as an employer that they might not know already?
Northwell Health values and promotes many different training opportunities to assist us in our career growth. I am fortunate to work for an organization that invests in me.
At Northwell, we’re flexible and not afraid to push boundaries. So, the forecast and eventual onset of rain that showed up at the finale of this year’s employee Rally didn’t stop our team members from making unforgettable memories together and celebrating the “Story of us.” There was nothing but sunny and smiling faces at the Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater on Saturday, July 21 when thousands of Northwell team members gathered for this incredible event.
This year’s Rally was all about storytelling and started at the Wellgate, our healthy version of a tailgate. In the “Story of Us” zone, guests could visit “Did You Know?” tents to learn about different initiatives for Northwell team members– such as myWellness, the Gift of Life (Northwell’s organ donation partnership program) and the work of our Foundation (we are a non-profit after all).
It was in this zone that Northwell even beat a world record! Rally guests worked together to help Northwell break the Guinness World Record for the most color by number contributions. 829 participants colored in a giant mural depicting our health system, beating the previous record of 455 participants.
In the “Story of Life” zone, Rally guests experienced the power of connection. Here guests could taste healthy choice recipes crafted by 12 Northwell chefs from our hospitals. They also discovered the healing power of pet therapy, getting the opportunity to meet with Northwell’s furriest team members. Poetry was also part of the day, with poets writing a personalized haiku for guests based on their own stories.
Rally guests could then walk through the different features highlighting our “Stores of Curiosity”. Guests could participate in training in an ambulance simulator or support one of Northwell’s next innovations by signing the “What if” wall which gave an inside look into some of our health system’s next big ideas. The zone’s Hall of Innovation was another big hit at the Rally. From a telehealth bike that gives patients access to supervised pulmonary rehabilitation therapy remotely, to a Northwell Health skill for Amazon Alexa that delivers current wait times for our patients, Northwell’s team members are developing innovations that will help shape the future of health care.
Other featured initiatives included: the Fin (the first 3D-printed, amphibious, prosthetic leg that allows amputee swimmers to navigate in and out of the water), Bottle Cap (an app that provides patients with automated text messaging and online coaching to learn about and reduce their consumption of alcoholic beverages,) and Project Polaris (a multi-year journey to reimagine HR processes).
In our “Stories of Celebration” zone, we celebrated our diverse and growing team of more than 66,000, including the stories of our President’s Awards winners and finalists, service awards recipients, and those who volunteered for service in last year’s Hurricane Harvey and Maria relief efforts. Our employees are so much more than their scrubs and stethoscopes and Rally guests were able to look, listen, touch and feel the exceptional stories of their fellow team members in our immersive display celebrating Northwell’s every day heroes.
Finally, at the Activity Stage, employees moved to the beat at the Zumba class led by a Northwell team member, Daniel Manalo, and danced to the music of the Hot Seeds, our very own physician band.
After the Wellgate experience, attendees entered the amphitheater for the main show, an experience that won’t soon be forgotten. From a guest speaker to President’s Awards Winner tributes to the grand prize drawing of our employee walk challenge to special performances, team members danced and cheered all night long.
It of course wouldn’t be a Rally without Michael J. Dowling, Northwell’s President and CEO. It’s not often your CEO make their big entrance on a boat! His remarks, as always, inspired everyone in attendance and he reminded team members to continue to innovate for our patients and our community.
Advancing Northwell’s spirit of innovation was the Rally’s guest speaker, Mick Ebeling. Mick founded Not Impossible Labs and works hard to expand the possibilities of technology to provide solutions for fundamental human needs, causing waves in and out of the world of healthcare. His powerful speech inspired Northwell employees to continue to view the world differently and to challenge the idea of impossible.
Closing the 2018 Northwell Rally was a spectacular performance from Michael Elroy and the Broadway Inspirational Voices and a moving display from The Silhouettes.
The excitement in the air was contagious, with team members feeling reinvigorated for what lies ahead. Of course, the excitement was never higher than when it came time to announce the big winners for the Walk to Dublin employee step challenge. The winning team was announced, with all ten members receiving a free trip to Dublin. But that wasn’t all – as a surprise, two more teams were awarded the grand prize for a total of thirty employees headed to Dublin!
As the event came to a close, there was one impassioned thought running through the crowd: we can’t wait to see what the Story of Us brings next year!
Under the bold and delicious vision of Northwell Health’s VP of System Food Services Corporate Michelin Chef, Bruno Tison, the recipe for hospital food as you once knew it has changed. Michelin Chef Tison, along with other award-winning Michelin chefs like Andrew Cain, is helping Northwell Health redefine the culinary experience for patients, their families, and Northwell employees.
“I want to help cook better food for people who really need it,” says Chef Tison, “Northwell Health is a pioneer for redefining hospital food for 23 hospitals.”
A recipe for culinary success.
A native of northern France, Chef Bruno Tison began his culinary education at Belgium’s prestigious Institut Technique Des Metiers De L’Alimentation, where he graduated with highest honors and was awarded first prize for excellence in culinary achievement. His more than 30 years of experience includes serving as Executive Chef of the legendary Plaza Hotel in New York City. Chef Tison’s nouvelle cuisine has earned critical acclaim. Most recently, his leadership enabled the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa in California to receive the celebrated Michelin Star recognition for three consecutive years.
Chef Andrew Cain started working under an executive chef at the age of 15, received a Bachelor’s degree in Hotel Restaurant Management and went to work at the Fairmont with Chef Tison 10 years ago. They’ve made a great team ever since. This relationship is now helping to dramatically elevate Northwell Health’s food experience.
The two believe that crafting delicious meals shouldn’t change by location. “Whether it’s a patient in a bed, or a person in the restaurant,” says Chef Cain, “when it comes to cooking great food, you truly have to care about it.”
Redefining the culinary experience.
Having reached the pinnacle of the culinary profession, Chefs Tison and Cain were looking for a new challenge and the opportunity to bring the highest level of culinary expression not just to people who could “afford it” but to people who truly needed it, people whose lives could be changed by a world-class food experience.
That’s why Chef Tison joined Northwell Health and later brought Chef Cain onboard, with Chef Tison stating, “I came to Northwell because they are very serious about making this shift in the healthcare food industry happen.”
Chef Tison has championed a number of important initiatives for Northwell’s culinary efforts:
Bring outstanding talent from the outside and retrain existing chefs.
Having worked with Chef Tison for 10+ years, Chef Andrew Cain shared his passion for elevating the food experience for people who genuinely need it. With a background in Four- and Five-Star restaurants in New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., Chef Cain is helping Chef Tison bring a Michelin-inspired sensibility to Northwell Health. Northwell is also partnering with the Culinary Institute of America to attract the next generation of great chefs.
Knowing that Northwell is a place known for the most innovative clinical technology, Chef Tison is bringing this same commitment to modernizing the food service area.
Higher quality food.
This includes fresh, locally-sourced food instead of frozen, replacing instant coffee with fresh coffee, getting rid of candies/sugar and eliminating processed food.
Chef Tison’s ultimate goal is to deliver restaurant-quality food to patients, families and staff. “It’s a new frontier,” says Chef Tison, “and that’s exciting for new and tenured chefs alike.” He even has an eye on applying for inclusion in the Michelin Guide!
At Northwell Health, we already stand out as one of the Best Workplaces™ in Health Care and Biopharma. Now we’re aiming to be the healthiest. Our leadership is focused on food and nutrition as well as fitness and mental wellbeing initiatives to build a healthier workplace for all our employees.
“In the past few years, we’ve been able to do more in food and nutrition to create a better, more effective infrastructure for wellness at work and it’s because we’ve had a lot of great support from leadership.”
–Michelle Milgrim, Employee Wellness Manager
It all starts with the ingredients. Over the past two years, we’ve worked to ensure that our chicken, turkey and beef burgers are 100 percent antibiotic free. Our fish is sustainably sourced and harvested and we work, as much as possible, with local farms across Long Island, NJ and the Hudson Valley to source local produce. Through Community Supported Agriculture, employees are given the opportunity to get local produce – freshly harvested that morning — delivered weekly to their offices.
With great ingredients, we need great chefs. Northwell Health has four Michelin Star chefs that are driving chef talent development including our new AVP, system food services Bruno Tison. Our new partnership with the Culinary Institute of America’s fellowship program is going to bring culinary students into our pipeline of talent.
Now that we have put wellness on our plates and in our kitchens, we’re focusing on wellness in other areas. For starters? We want employees to be eating well at home. So, we’ve invested in teaching kitchens and work in close collaboration with chefs and registered dietitian teams to create hands-on demonstrations that have become a popular, accessible tool for staff. And we’re supporting these initiatives by providing healthier options throughout our facilities, not just the patient and cafeteria menu. We’re updating our coffee shops, gift shops, and vending machines so that the default options at our facilities will be healthy ones.
Though these changes are already making an impact to our employees’ wellness, they’re not the only lifestyle initiatives that we’re putting in place to support the wellbeing of our people. We’re putting our best foot forward through on-site stairwell and fitness campaigns and corporate walking challenges like our Walk to Dublin contest. As we pursue promoting wellness for our bodies, we also seek wellness for our mental health. We offer opportunities for stress management at our sites through guided meditation and reiki, and simply giving our employees time to unwind. We’re also making our facilities mom-friendly. By August, all of our sites will be equipped with dedicated lactation rooms to make pumping at work more accessible and comfortable for mothers.
At Northwell, every role matters, every person matters and every healthy moment matters. We’re invested in our employees’ health, inside and out and we continuously strive toward making our facilities a more nutritious, fit-friendly and welcoming place to work.
Be part of this transformation. See where you fit in here.
It is the policy of Northwell Health to provide equal employment opportunity and treat all employees equally regardless of age, race, creed/religion, color, national origin, alienage or citizenship status, sexual orientation, military or veteran status, sex/gender, gender identity, gender expression, disability, generic information or genetic predisposition or carrier status, marital status, partnership status, victim of domestic violence, or other characteristics protected by applicable law. Northwell Health leaders, including the CEO, are committed to the principles of Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action.