By Leland Kim, UCSF News
After dropping out of college, 20-year-old Rodney Zinn found himself working various restaurant jobs in San Francisco making minimum wage.
“I was trying to figure out who I am and figure out where I’m going,” he said. “What is my purpose in life? I was just living.”
He wanted to find a career where he could help people. He gravitated towards the medical field because he grew up watching his mother battle multiple sclerosis, a debilitating autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system.
“I wanted to be in a position where I could help people the way the doctors and other medical folks helped my mom when I was growing up,” Zinn said. “I always knew that health care was my passion, and that’s what I wanted to do. But it’s hard being black, being 20 years old without a college degree to even get a break.”
Zinn’s aunt told him about an opportunity with the EXCEL (Excellence through Community Engagement and Learning) program, a partnership of UC San Francisco, the City and County of San Francisco and the Jewish Vocational Services (JVS). It is a work-based learning program that uses both classroom and on-the-job training to prepare participants for career path job in the health care sector.
Out of more than 100 applicants, Zinn and 18 of his classmates were chosen to start the seventh cycle of the EXCEL program in May 2014.
“This was the foot in the door that I needed,” he said. “This program not only helped me unlock my potential, but it helped me see a vision that I could reach. It helped me open my eyes to new horizons.”
The 19 interns started with classroom training. Then in August, they transitioned to on-the-job training at various UCSF departments and clinics.
“The EXCEL Cycle 7 class has been an amazing group of interns,” said Damon Lew, assistant director of community relations at UCSF, who directs the EXCEL program. “They came into the program tremendously focused on their career goals and this is reflected by the number of interns that are either working in temp positions at UCSF or moving on to career positions after their internship.”
Out of 18 graduates, at least three have been placed in permanent jobs at UCSF.
“Damon is the most influential person associated with this program,” said Portia Jackson, who also graduated from the EXCEL program this cycle.
“He has the drive to help people succeed, to want people to succeed, and to actually oversee this program,” she said. “He has that desire to make this program work. Behind the scenes, he’s done some amazing things to create opportunities for us, and to get us in career positions.”
“Rodney has extraordinary empathy for the patients and their families,” said Diane Sabin, clinic administrative director of the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine. “His dedication to serve others is now coupled with his new-found drive to learn more about clinics and patient care. I know that Rodney’s work will touch many people’s lives.”
Despite being the youngest person in the program, Zinn secured a permanent career position as a patient care coordinator with the UCSF Multiple Sclerosis Center.
“Rodney’s passion for the job, his eagerness for the role, his maturity at a young age and his genuineness in the way he presented himself really made him stand out,” said Galen Laserson, practice manager of the Multiple Sclerosis Center.
“Our patient care coordinators work with our patients directly and it became clear that he could speak to our patients with a great amount of empathy, and his excitement about learning more about multiple sclerosis came through. This is someone we want to invest in, train and have as valuable member of our team.”
Zinn has found, what he describes as an “ideal career position,” since he is helping patients who are battling the same disease his mom has.