Julia Danko knew she was interested in a health care career. Her junior high school science teacher at St. Albert the Great School in North Royalton recognized her aptitude and suggested that she consider the medical field. “I wanted to help people. It’s big for me to think that I can help restore someone to health,” she said.
Although she expected to attend public high school, Julia acquiesced when her sister, a Padua Franciscan High School alumna, suggested that she spend a day shadowing there. “I did and it was everything I wanted,” she said, after learning about the school’s innovative MedTrack program that began in 2008.
Laurie Keco Grabowski, a 1989 Padua graduate, is director of the award-winning MedTrack program. She said MedTrack has three pillars: rigorous academic preparation, methodical career exploration and Franciscan values. It is unique among Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Cleveland, she said, noting the program has also attracted an international student from China.
Now a junior, Julia is on track for a health care career. Although she was interested in emergency medicine, she decided to explore transplant medicine during her externship last summer. She observed at University Hospital’s Transplant Institution, an experience she described as amazing.
“I didn’t realize that these professionals were following the Franciscan charisms,” Julia said. “They treated the patient as a person, not a disease. I met so many wonderful people – doctors, nurses, social workers, financial planners – all who worked with the patients.” She said one patient was having issues and a dietician explored whether his diet could be part of the problem. “She researched ways to help him and even helped him find healthy food on his tight budget,” Julia said.
She was one of three students selected to present her experience at this year’s Junior Externship Fair. In the audience were members of the MedTrack Advisory Board, which includes professionals from all Greater Cleveland hospital systems, professors, parents, and even a Franciscan friar who is senior director of ethics for the Catholic Health Association, USA.
Although MedTrack involves a rigorous academic schedule heavy with honors math and science courses, Julia said she appreciates the fact that she can get involved in other school activities. She played volleyball for Padua for two years and continues playing club volleyball in the winter. She also is a member of the Spanish Club and Key Club, while also volunteering at her parish, St. Basil in Brecksville.
Laurie, a lawyer by trade, was working in Padua’s institutional advancement department when Principal David Stec, a 1986 Padua alumnus, proposed the idea for MedTrack. “We never imagined it would develop like this,” she said, noting the program grew organically in-house to encourage students to explore healthcare careers. “And I have the privilege of being able to focus on the program full-time.”
She said her project management skills helped make the program more robust, including a career speaker series, professional skills development and a special MedTrack retreat program co-sponsored with Campus Ministry. Efforts are under way to develop an alumni network and structured mentoring program for the younger MedTrack students, Laurie said.
“The Franciscans have an 800-year history with health care. We want students to explore a variety of careers and to respect all the members of the health care team,” Laurie said, as well as practice the Franciscan charisms of dignity of the individual, compassion, empathy and respect.
“Health care is a vocation, not just a job. We help students learn to listen to where the Lord is leading them,” Laurie added.