Building a more diverse health care workforce

With gifts from Sea Mar Community Health Centers and Community Health Plan of Washington, the University of Washington is announcing the creation of a new fund to support first-generation, low income and underserved students at the UW who are studying health care. 

As part of their commitment to building a more equitable health care provider pipeline, the two organizations have each donated $25,000 to seed the new Sea Mar Community Health Centers & Community Health Plan of Washington Endowed Student Support Fund. 

Once the new fund reaches $100,000 with anticipated support from other community partners, it will be used to offer scholarships to students who are studying a health care-related field at the UW Bothell campus or through the Educational Opportunity Program at the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity on the Seattle campus. 

Leading gifts from community leaders

This is the second gift of this type in as many years led by UW Regent Rogelio Riojas, the president and CEO of Sea Mar Community Health Centers, with the goal of broadening student health care scholarships at a tri-campus level. 

Last year, Riojas helped create a similar opportunity for students in a partnership between Sea Mar and MultiCare Health Systems, funding the Sea Mar-MultiCare Endowed Scholarship that is jointly managed by UW Tacoma and OMA&D. 

“I want to express my deep appreciation to Regent Rogelio Riojas from Sea Mar Community Health Centers and to Abie Castillo and Leanne Berge from Community Health Plan of Washington for their generosity,” UW Bothell Chancellor Wolf Yeigh said. “In helping us establish this new fund, they will have a powerful impact on our students. 

“It is especially powerful for our entire campus community to know that one of the UW regents has chosen to make a gift to assist UW Bothell students with the most need,” he said. “His leadership is encouraging and inspiring as we work to provide greater access to an excellent UW education.” 

Investing in education and health care

This new investment in UW students who are pursuing health care professions is also intended to improve health care outcomes for underrepresented communities. 

Studies show that health care disparities are greatest in poor communities and communities of color where health care providers often do not come from the same backgrounds as their patients. This can create communication barriers and delay providers’ ability to build trust with the communities in which they serve. 

In his work, Riojas recognizes this critical gap and said he saw a way to work with the University of Washington systems to help close it. 

“By seeding this endowment to increase diversity in the health care provider workforce, we can take meaningful steps to address disparities in health outcomes and care,” he said. “The health care system should be as diverse as the people it serves, but today sadly, it is not. 

“With social and cultural factors playing an important role in health and wellness,” Riojas said, “it is critical that we champion an equitable approach to education for people of all races and cultures to ensure that health care providers are well-positioned to support each patient’s unique needs.” 

Supporting students and patients

At the UW campus in Seattle, OMA&D will administer future scholarships through the Educational Opportunity Program, with which Riojas has been deeply engaged for many years. 

“Regent Rogelio Riojas is a champion for the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity — and for the students in our programs,” said Rickey Hall, vice president for Minority Affairs & Diversity. “His unwavering support and investments will help us with efforts to recruit and graduate diverse students in the health professions committed to serving communities across the state. Rogelio understands that an investment in education is an investment in communities. 

“It is my hope that this investment from Sea Mar and CHPW to the UW OMA&D and UW Bothell will encourage others to contribute to this fund or similar funds that support outstanding students with need,” Hall said. “I especially like that students pursuing any health-related major will be able to apply and take advantage of this fund.” 

At UW Bothell, Chancellor Yeigh noted, “almost half of the diverse population of students we serve will be the first in their families to receive a four-year degree and about a third are eligible for federal Pell Grants. This new resource will give more of our students the support they need to stay in school and to make the most of their UW education.” 

For its part, CHPW is committed to improving health care equity for individuals as well as addressing systemic issues that are at the root of health care disparities, noted Leanne Berge, CEO of CHPW and Community Health Network of Washington. “One of our core beliefs is in the power of community,” she said. “For us, that means ensuring that our members and their families can draw support from the resources within their communities and the strength of those connections. 

“This initiative provides an opportunity to strengthen that power, both for the individuals who will have greater opportunities to realize their hopes and dreams, and for their communities.” 

You can donate online directly to the Sea Mar Community Health Centers & Community Health Plan of Washington Endowed Student Support Fund and help provide financial assistance to undergraduate students at UW Bothell and to students participating in the Educational Opportunity Program at the UW in Seattle, which supports American Indian/Alaska Native, underrepresented minority, economically disadvantaged and first-generation students at the UW. 

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