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Arizona Students Awarded United Health Scholarships

Six Arizona students have been awarded a scholarship from United Health Foundation’s Diverse Scholars Initiative to pursue a career in health care. The students  joined future health leaders from across the country in Washington, D.C. for the United Health Foundation’s Fifth Annual Diverse Scholars Forum.

Kaitlyn Benally of Tuba City is a sophomore at Northern Arizona University studying biomedical sciences, with the goal of educating people about the risks associated with diabetes.

“I hope to make a difference as a member of the future health workforce by working with children and their parents to help them understand the benefits of healthy living,” she said. “Diabetes is a growing health concern on the reservation. I will educate people about the risks and show them ways to improve their lifestyle to become healthier.”

Another scholarship winner, Cecilia Espinoza of El Mirage, is studying nursing at Grand Canyon University. After watching her father pass away from cancer, she decided to pursue a career as an oncology nurse.

Other Arizona scholarship recipients, and their areas of study, include:

* Regis Maloney of Tonalea, Environmental Health at Dine College
* Jeffrey Sleppy of Chinle, Biology at Dine College
* Lorenza Villegas-Murphy of Litchfield Park, Nursing at Arizona State University
* Mycolette Anderson of Lukachukai, Nursing at Dine College

United Health Foundation’s Diverse Scholars Initiative, through its partner organizations, awarded $1.2 million in scholarships in the 2012-2013 school year to 200 students from diverse, multicultural backgrounds, with nearly $2 million in scholarships announced for 2013-2014. This is part of the foundation’s ongoing commitment to build a more diverse health care workforce.

By the end of 2013, United Health Foundation will have awarded $10 million in scholarships to diverse students pursing health careers. Nearly 70 scholarships have been awarded in Arizona since 2007.

“We know patients do best when they are treated by people who understand their language and culture,” said Kate Rubin, president, United Health Foundation. “United Health Foundation is grateful for the opportunity to support these outstanding students who are demonstrating impressive purpose and passion and who will help lead the way to better health access and outcomes.”

United Health Foundation made the announcement at its fifth annual Diverse Scholars Forum, which brings more than 60scholarship recipients to Washington, D.C., July 24-26 to celebrate the scholars and inspire them to work toward strengthening the nation’s health care system. This year’s event gives these future health care professionals the opportunity to meet and interact with members of Congress and leaders from a variety of health care fields.

According to the American Medical Association and Association of American Medical Colleges, the number of multicultural health professionals is disproportionately low when compared to the overall population. For example, while about 15 percent of the U.S. population is Hispanic/Latino, only 5 percent of physicians and 4 percent of registered nurses are Hispanic/Latino. About 12 percent of the population is African American, yet only 6 percent of physicians and 5 percent of registered nurses are African American.

Given the changing demographics in the United States and the volumes of people entering the health care system due to the Affordable Care Act, there is an even greater need for a more diverse health care workforce.

Research shows that when patients are treated by health professionals who share their language, culture and ethnicity, they are more likely to accept and adopt the medical treatment they receive1. Increasing the diversity of health care providers will reduce the shortage of medical professionals in underserved areas, reduce inequities in academic medicine and address variables – such as language barriers – that make it difficult for patients to navigate the health care system.

“We are pleased to support these exceptional students in their efforts to achieve their educational goals and work to improve our health care system,” said Rubin. “The Diverse Scholars Initiative helps these scholars fund their education, and gives them an opportunity to learn from one another and interact with experts who are leading the way in improving patient care.”

United Health Foundation’s Diverse Scholars Initiative is one facet of the foundation’s commitment to build and strengthen the health workforce. United Health Foundation supports additional programs like STEMPREP, which aims to produce the next generation of researchers in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medical fields. The foundation also supports A.T. Still University’s Connect the Docs Graduate Loanship Program that provides loan repayments to four qualifying graduates who secure jobs in community health centers.

For more information about the Diverse Scholars Initiative, visit www.unitedhealthfoundation.org/dsi.html.