Banking on the future of health care

When the last of her five children started school, Maria Bernadette Freita, 56, embarked on a new career journey promoting a healthy lifestyle to prevent and treat chronic diseases while addressing health disparities. focused on giving.

But often in Latino communities like the one her family grew up in, mistrust of health care providers exacerbates those disparities, as Freita experienced firsthand with her elderly parents during a recent health scare.

“We waited until the worst possible point had passed before going to the doctors,” Freita said. “Many of us won’t tell providers about symptoms because they won’t necessarily understand or believe us.”

A senior in the Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Lifestyle Medicine program, Freita wants to build trust and improve health outcomes in her community. That goal is getting a boost from the Bank of America Scholars Program, which aims to help Latino students enter the health care field.

Freita returned to school to begin a new career journey that focuses on promoting a healthy lifestyle to prevent and treat chronic diseases while addressing health disparities. Photo by Alison McClaren

MSU Denver is one of 12 institutions of higher education nationwide to receive funding from Bank of America ProgressandoA corporate initiative to advance racial equality and economic opportunity.

Patients receive better care from physicians with a shared racial or ethnic background, yet a shortage of physicians from underrepresented populations reduces the number of physicians available to serve them. According to recent data from the Urban Institute, only 23.1% of Latino adults reported sharing a racial, ethnic or language background with their health care providers, compared to 73.8% of white respondents.

The Bank of America program supporting Latino students is one of several health scholar programs at MSU Denver’s Institute of Health, a collaboration of 10 health-related departments across campus aimed at helping state health care workers access to close the gap.


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The Health Scholars Program provides wraparound support services, scholarships, and targeted programming in an effort to improve students’ chances of academic and career success.

“These programs give us the opportunity to reach out and reach more students,” said Emily Matuszewicz, the Institute for Health’s director of development and partnerships. “This is especially important for historically underrepresented populations who are looking to give back in higher education and serve in essential occupations.”

Health scholars programs have increased student retention, especially for underrepresented groups, undocumented students, and low-income students, according to enrollment data from the Institute of Health. Of the students who completed the Health Scholars Program, 94% continued their studies the next semester or graduate.

Led by full-time counselors known as health-career navigators, students are directed toward their academic programs and high-demand fields, including more diverse representation, said Sammy Chumasero, navigator of the Bank of America Scholars Program. desperately needed.”

“The workforce needs more doctors and nurses, as well as behavioral-health professionals, nutritionists, community-health practitioners and more,” Chumasero said. “Health is very personal, and it is much easier to provide services and support when you are talking to someone who looks and feels like you, who understands your background and the stigma around certain topics. Is.”


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Bank of America’s $250,000 investment in MSU Denver’s Health Scholars Program is being used to support Chumasero’s role and hire student peer leaders like Freita, who will help manage the program and mentor other students. Let’s help The funding will also provide stipends to support students and pay for career-related uniforms and supplies.

Freita called the program “life-changing”.

Freita said, “I didn’t see myself as someone who could necessarily make a difference.” “But thanks to MSU Denver, I realized how much of an impact I can have as a mentor and how we can really empower each other.”

Another peer leader, Melissa Perez Luna, is also sold on the program.

Perez Luna, an undocumented DACA student who was brought to the US from Mexico by his parents at age 5, MSU after learning about the support services provided by the university’s Immigrant Services Program and Health Scholars Program Got ready for Denver.

A senior psychological science major with a minor in Spanish, Perez Luna sees her mentorship role in the Bank of America Scholars Program as an opportunity to pay it forward for others who may be in the same position she once was .

“Throughout my life, I’ve seen how incredible it is to help my community,” she said. “Working on my own is very different, but now that I get to help other people like me, it’s an amazing experience.”

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