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Faces of Cedars-Sinai: Respiratory Therapist Kenia Norales

Kenia Norales Cedars-Sinai Respiratory Therapist

When Kenia Norales went to her first Cedars-Sinai interview at age 17, she knew nothing about the medical center or working in a hospital. It was 2003 and Kenia was a senior at Manual Arts High School, seeking a coveted spot in the Cedars-Sinai Youth Employment & Development (YED) program.

She recalls that she was so nervous a student supervisor told her the interview was only for practice. "It was like a week or two after my interview that I found out I had actually gotten hired, and I was so excited," Kenia says.

First steps toward a career in healthcare

The program, which has accepted 45 local high school students each year since 1993, is designed to help juniors and seniors take their first steps toward a career in healthcare. Participants gain hands-on hospital experience and school credit for their efforts.

"For most of these students, we're the first job experience," said Andrea Perry, head of the YED program. "We show them what it's like to work in the real world while giving them a great opportunity with a great support team."

A bright star

Kenia's dedication to her new job was tested almost immediately. During her first week there was a Metro bus strike, which turned her usual 90-minute commute into a 3-hour trek each way.

For 2 months, she hopped on and off a series of DASH buses to get to her job. "I'd work about an hour or two and then do the same commute back home," says Kenia. "I was determined."

Her resilience impressed Andrea, who says Kenia was among the program's brightest stars.

"She was dedicated," says Andrea. "She took advantage of all the opportunities presented to her. She saw this was a good thing and ran with it."

"She was dedicated. She took advantage of all the opportunities presented to her."

Inspired to go further

After high school, Kenia landed a permanent job at Cedar-Sinai as a logistics technician, responsible for transporting patients from their rooms to various appointments throughout the medical center.

During that time, Kenia says she was inspired by a visit to the respiratory therapy unit, which ultimately led her to enroll in the respiratory therapy program at Santa Monica College.

"When I got hired, the first person I told was Andrea!"

She graduated in 2015 and passed the state boards. In 2016, 13 years after that first interview, Kenia rejoined Cedars-Sinai as a full-time respiratory therapist.

"When I got hired, the first person I told was Andrea," says Kenia. "I told her, 'I want to give you a hug and thank you for opening that door for me!'"

The YED Program is just one of the ways Cedars-Sinai is working toward a healthier Los Angeles. Learn more about our community benefit programs.