by Cedars-Sinai Staff

Zina Mansaray has always wanted to be a nurse. Growing up in Sierra Leone, she suffered firsthand the trauma of inadequate medical care: When she was only a year old, her mother died of complications from an infection that wasn’t treated properly. Now, thanks in part to Cedars-Sinai’s grant support for the nonprofit educational program JVS SoCal, Mansaray is on a path to a career in healthcare.


“I have so much to offer to the people who really need it. I want to gain as much professional knowledge as I can.”


Mansaray immigrated to the United States in 2015, and came to Los Angeles a year later to live with her dad, a special education teacher. This spring, while she earned her associate’s degree in natural sciences and math at Los Angeles City College, she was also accepted to JVS SoCal’s CareerWork$ Medical program. The nonprofit aims to shepherd workers out of unemployment or chronic underemployment into sustainable positions that pay a living wage by offering free, industry-specific training programs, job placement assistance and ongoing coaching. The CareerWork$ Medical program is designed to ready job seekers for nonclinical positions in healthcare. Mansaray eagerly soaked up lessons about preparing to work in a hospital environment.

In March, Mansaray was applying to nursing school while completing the JVS SoCal training program just as the COVID-19 pandemic forced stay-at-home orders and deeply impacted the job market. As the coronavirus devastated some healthcare institutions, Mansaray’s commitment to her new pathway only strengthened. But job postings became scarce, and when her dad was furloughed at work, she had to pick up extra shifts at Target as a customer service representative. Mansaray worried about making ends meet while she continued to attend school online and searched for a job where she could apply the skills and confidence she’d learned through CareerWork$.

That’s when a Cedars-Sinai COVID-19 rapid-response grant provided a little relief to Mansaray and 24 other recent program graduates. The funds delivered financial assistance—for phone and utility bills, groceries and household essentials—and also covered ongoing job readiness and interview practice during the economic downturn.

Elise Levine, associate director of JVS SoCal’s Healthcare Programs who also leads the CareerWork$ classes, says the immediate assistance assured that people who had worked hard to advance their careers could remain prepared and focused on their futures.

“For these new and emerging professionals who abruptly lost their jobs or weren’t able to be hired because of the pandemic, we were able to jump in to help keep them afloat until they’re able to work again,” she says.

With her bills paid, Mansaray was able to focus on her job search.

“For those two months, I only had to worry about rent,” Mansaray says. “When I didn’t have to think about what I needed, and I had people guiding me, it allowed me to be more independent and work towards what I want to accomplish.”

When Mansaray came across an opening for a nutrition care representative in Cedars-Sinai’s Samuel Oschin Cancer Center, she felt an immediate “click.” She knew her food service experience and previous work as a caregiver qualified her, and the CareerWork$ program had given her confidence. She got the job and started work in August.

Her new role taking meal orders and preparing and delivering food to patients is a meaningful one that she knows will inform her career trajectory.

“There’s so much I can learn from patients, nurses, my managers and colleagues,” she says. “To serve food to anyone is a process of trust—I enjoy making that connection with people.”

Her dad is back at work, and while she settles into her new role, she’ll continue to take classes and maintain her place on the waiting list for the Los Angeles Trade-Tech’s nursing program.

“I have so much to offer to the people who really need it,” Mansaray says. “I want to gain as much professional knowledge as I can.”