Going to the hospital or receiving medical care can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially if you’re not feeling well or are in pain. However, it can be more of a daunting experience if you speak a different language or have a diverse cultural background from those at the health care facility.
At Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin (GHC-SCW), we understand how health care is complicated, but even more so when there are cultural and linguistic barriers. We believe health care should be fair and accessible to everyone, regardless of their background. Having the privilege to serve the unique and vibrant Madison area, we also recognize the need to have providers who reflect the diversity of our community.
We take pride in our commitment to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion with many services, including language accessibility, community outreach and health services. Another key initiative is to promote diversity in health care professions through the Pre-Professional Medical Diversity Scholarship program. This award helps three scholars from diverse backgrounds pursue careers in health care, offering them a $5,000 scholarship and the opportunity to learn from experienced GHC-SCW providers at our clinics.
Meet the 2023 Pre-Professional Medical Diversity Scholarship Winners
We are thrilled to introduce you to our exceptional scholarship recipients this year. We hope you take the time to read their inspiring stories and what drives them to excellence in the health care field.
Meet Marina Melby
Marina Melby, a Native American woman, has been deeply influenced by her background and experiences in her decision to pursue a career in health care. Her childhood memories of visiting her great grandma’s house on the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota exposed her to the loving, yet somber reality of her family’s health struggles, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer. She witnessed their distrust of medical providers due to negative experiences, which often led to delayed medical care. Seeing first hand the impact of these health disparities with her loved ones motivated Marina to work towards ensuring indigenous people have positive relationships with their healthcare providers and receive timely and equitable care.
Her own positive experiences at her home Indian Health Services Clinic inspired her to become a Physician’s Assistant (PA). The PA who inspired her to go into the field mentored Marina and allowed her to shadow at the clinic. Marina believes that diverse healthcare providers are crucial in addressing health disparities because representation matters. Her desire to connect with Native people both on and off the reservation as a trusted healthcare provider reflects her dedication to reversing health disparities and improving the lives of her community, as illustrated in a touching encounter she had working as a Certified Nursing Assistant at UW Hospital:
“There was one particular patient that really made a positive impact on me as I pursue my goal to become a PA. He was an elderly gentleman on the general medicine floor… I learned he was a member of the Ho Chunk Nation. When I told him my family is enrolled in the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe at White Earth Nation, he reached out for my hand. I took my gloves off and held his hand in mine… I stood there for several minutes holding his hand. We had a connection and neither one of us wanted to let go, so we held hands a little longer. This meant so much to him. And me. I took care of him like he was my family for the rest of my shift. I could tell from his smile that he was at ease.”
Meet Pa Nhia Vue
Pa Nhia Vue’s background has profoundly influenced her decision to pursue a career in health care. Growing up as the child of Hmong refugees, she witnessed her parents’ unfamiliarity with Western medicine and their struggles to navigate the health care system due to cultural and language barriers. Her mother’s hospitalization experience highlighted the importance of effective communication and cultural understanding in health care. During this time, the family relied on an interpreter who not only bridged the language gap, but provided a much-needed calming presence during a difficult time.
Pa Nhia’s determination to address health disparities, particularly among marginalized communities, led her to become a registered nurse and later pursue a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). Her commitment to becoming an Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner is rooted in her desire to advocate for health equity, reduce health disparities and provide culturally sensitive care to diverse communities. Pa Nhia also strives to ensure there is support for professionals and students such as herself. During her time at UW Health, she helped create their first Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander Employee Resource Group. She wanted to establish a supportive environment for employees to foster camaraderie, enhance their professional growth and develop initiatives that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“Some may consider this achievement a small drop in a big pond, but I believe it is a step in the right direction of advancing the search for a solution to providing diverse health care to communities made up of people who come from all walks of life.”
Meet Yolanda Davis
Yolanda Davis’ journey into health care began with admiration for nurses, as she witnessed their dedication and compassion in various roles throughout her career. These early experiences, combined with her desire to become a clinical instructor, ignited her passion for teaching and guiding future healthcare professionals. Yolanda recognizes the importance of primary care in the health care system, aiming to serve as a gatekeeper for patients and promote preventive care and knowledge awareness. The decision to pursue a DNP reflects Yolanda’s commitment to improving health care outcomes, fostering diversity and serving as a role model and mentor for future minority healthcare providers.
In her essay, Yolanda also acknowledges the importance of medical diversity in health care to build trust amongst patients:
“It is important to see people who look like us in healthcare. There are people of color who are very skeptical of the health care system. It is deep rooted and valid, and in some fashion continues to manifest and confirm their beliefs.”
A touching encounter reinforced Yolanda’s belief in the importance of representation amongst her peers:
“Several months ago, I was in the hospital cafeteria and a young employee came and stood next to me. Initially quiet, then all of a sudden he said, “You are the first black Nurse I’ve seen since I started working here”. We went on to have a good discussion about diversity in healthcare.”
Breaking Down Barriers in Health Care
At GHC-SCW, we are proud to support individuals from Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities to pursue careers in health care. We recognize that diversity is not just a goal; it’s essential to providing quality health care to all. By offering scholarships and guidance to students like Yolanda, Marina and Pa Nhia, GHC-SCW aims to create a more diverse pool of role models and leaders in the health care field.
Salma Salama, a previous scholarship recipient, says, “I’m incredibly thankful for organizations like GHC that not only acknowledge the importance of diversity in healthcare but also take concrete steps to support students like me. I eagerly look forward to becoming a role model for minority children, students, and professionals alike.”
The Pre-Professional Medical Diversity Scholarship is a testament to GHC-SCW’s support in making health care more accessible and approachable in the community. By providing financial assistance and guidance to students from various backgrounds as they pursue careers in healthcare, GHC-SCW is helping them turn their dreams into reality. Moreover, we ensure that our healthcare system comprehensively understands and serves the unique needs of the communities it cares for. With trailblazers like Yolanda, Marina, and Pa Nhia leading the way, we can confidently look forward to a future where healthcare is more inclusive, accessible and equitable.