New Student Program to Help Address Diversity Gap in Health Care Industry

UC San Diego Health is the only institution in the region to receive grant funding from the California Department of Health Care Access and Information to provide support for underrepresented high school students interested in entering health care

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The new grant is similar to UC San Diego Health’s DREAM Externship Program, which was launched in 2021 and supports community college-level nursing students from underrepresented communities. Pictured is Christopher Vela (left), DREAM Nurse Extern from the 2021-2022 cohort.

UC San Diego Health has received $2.2 million in grant funding from the California Department of Health Care Access and Information (HCAI) to develop a new student enrichment program that seeks to encourage high school students in underrepresented communities to pursue health care careers.

Entitled the “UC San Diego Health Career Experience,” the new program will provide education and hands-on training for students interested in nursing and allied health professions, including medical assistants, physical therapy assistants, radiologic technicians and certified nurse assistants.

“We’re seeing data both regionally and statewide that there is a disparity between the diversity of nursing staff and patients served,” said Cabiria “Bea” Lizarraga, RN, nurse manager at UC San Diego Health. “This grant will provide us with the chance to address opportunity gaps among health care providers and increase diversity within our team, which we believe in turn will decrease health care disparities, and ultimately improve lives.”

The grant awards are issued through HCAI’s Health Professions Pathways Program , which focuses on students interested in entering fields of primary care, behavioral health, geriatrics, nursing, and oral and allied health.

In total, $40.8 million grant funds were awarded to 20 health care organizations from across the country, and UC San Diego Health is the only health care institution in the region to be awarded funds, which will be distributed over the next five years.

Approximately 240 students will take part in the program each year.

“The UC San Diego Health Career Experience is a reflection of our desire to proactively create a diverse workforce and to invite young minds into promising careers in academic medicine,” said Patty Maysent, CEO, UC San Diego Health. “Additionally, the program will help in fostering a vibrant and welcoming health care environment that reflects our patients, providers and local community overall.”

The annual program will offer instruction to students to develop their understanding of the acute care environment. Students will be coached on their health care profession of interest, relationship-based care, personal branding, simulation skills lab, health literacy and health care disparities, health care and technology, cultural competence, research and evidence-based practice and professional communication.

“This new program provides us with the opportunity to connect with high school students and provide comprehensive academic enrichment, career development and mentorship,” said Gerard Phillips, DNP, MBA, RN, senior director of nursing at UC San Diego Health. “We’re thrilled to be using the funding received to help with efforts that will result in a more diverse and inclusive workforce.”

Studying under the direct supervision of a health care provider, students involved in the program will observe and participate in a variety of clinical experiences. Patient care areas that students will gain exposure to include behavioral health, geriatric health, primary care and general adult medical-surgical care.

Additionally, UC San Diego Health experts will speak at local high schools.

In 2021, UC San Diego Health developed a similar program for community college students called the DREAM Externship.

As part of the 12-week DREAM (Diversity, Retention, Equity, Aspire and Mentor) Externship program, nurses at UC San Diego Health partner with local community colleges to provide hands-on training opportunities for nursing students, along with career guidance and other critical skills to support the students’ transition to a professional clinical nurse.

Lizarraga created the program with fellow UC San Diego Health nurse leader Gwendolyn McPherson, MSN, RN.

According to Lizarraga, there is a lack of diversity in nursing, noting that the majority of Hispanic and African American registered nurses obtain their Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) as their initial nursing education, which can be a barrier to entering the profession because many health care institutions prefer Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees.

“Through the DREAM program, we’ve created a pathway for ADN students to join our institution, while partnering with them through mentorship to address any barriers and optimize each student’s success,” said Lizarraga.

Now with the HCAI grant, the team will expand the education and learning opportunity to high school students as well.

“We hope all the efforts we are leading at UC San Diego Health empower students to be future leaders in health care,” said Phillips.

The UC San Diego Health Career Experience program will be in collaboration with the San Diego Nursing & Allied Health Education Consortium, San Diego County Community Colleges and the Health Sciences High and Middle College.



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