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UC San Diego Health received $2.2 million in state grant funding to develop a program to encourage high school students in underrepresented communities to pursue healthcare careers, it was announced Wednesday.

The California Department of Health Care Access and Information funds established the UC San Diego Health Career Experience, which will provide education and hands-on training for students interested in nursing and other health professions, such as 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, registered nurse and nurse manager at UCSD 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 funds will be distributed over the next five years with about 240 students taking part in the program each year, according to a university statement.

“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 of UCSD Health. “Additionally, the program will help in fostering a vibrant and welcoming health care environment that reflects our patients, providers and local community overall.”

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. Areas that students will gain exposure to include behavioral health, geriatric health, primary care and general adult medical- surgical care.

In 2021, UCSD Health developed a similar program for community college students called the DREAM Externship. As part of the 12-week program, nurses at UCSD Health partner with local community colleges to provide training opportunities for nursing students, along with career guidance and other critical skills to support their transition to being a professional clinical nurse.

Lizarraga created the program with fellow UCSD Health nurse leader Gwendolyn McPherson.

Lizarraga noted that the majority of Hispanic and Black registered nurses obtain their associates degree in nursing as their initial nursing education, which can be a barrier to entering the profession because many health care institutions prefer bachelor degrees in nursing.

–City News Service