FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Laurie Kappe
Charles J. Alexander, José Ramón Fernández-Peña and John T. Matsui awarded $25,000 each for creating programs to increase and diversify the health workforce
Los Angeles (CA) – Developing programs to address challenges found through their own personal experiences, three extraordinary higher education leaders will be honored as the 2011 Champions of Health Professions Diversity by The California Wellness Foundation (TCWF). Charles Alexander of the University of California, Los Angeles, directed programs that keep low-income, first-generation students on track in health and science. José Ramón Fernández-Peña, at City College of San Francisco and San Francisco State University, recognized the potential of having immigrant health professionals work in underserved communities. John Matsui of the University of California, Berkeley, confronted the obstacles facing disadvantaged health and science students who are often overlooked and lost in the system.
On June 1, 2011, TCWF will honor these three leaders at its ninth annual “Champions of Health Professions Diversity Award” ceremony in Los Angeles. In recognition of their efforts to reach out, mentor and support disadvantaged students preparing for health careers, the honorees will each receive a cash award of $25,000.
Increasing California’s health workforce and its diversity is crucial to improving the health of Californians. The state’s population continues to grow and, by 2020, it will be older and far more ethnically and racially diverse. Already there are shortages of workers in nearly all sectors of the health workforce. A workforce that reflects the racial and ethnic diversity of California will provide the cultural competence and language proficiency necessary to provide high-quality health care for all Californians.
“The changing demographics of our state and the current shortage of health workers underscore the need to prioritize efforts that enable young people and foreign-trained health professionals to obtain careers in health care,” said Gary L. Yates, TCWF president and CEO. “These leaders have advanced model programs and policies based in higher education settings that support students on a path toward health professions.”
A pioneer of pipeline programs designed to increase diversity in the health professions, Charles Alexander is currently the director of the Academic Advancement Program (AAP) at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). AAP supports students from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds, including first-generation college students and students from low-income families and underrepresented populations. Alexander also serves as the associate vice provost for student diversity in UCLA’s Division of Undergraduate Education and as an associate adjunct professor in the Division of Public Health, School of Dentistry.
“While 80 percent of our freshmen declare a major in a science area, in four or five years that number drops to almost 20 percent,” Alexander said. “We're losing students somewhere along that pathway.”
After José Ramón Fernández-Peña immigrated to the United States, he discovered how complicated it is to relicense as a physician here. About 10 years later, Fernández-Peña founded the Welcome Back Initiative (WBI) to assist foreign-trained health professionals overcome barriers to licensure and employment in the U.S. health sector. He is currently the executive director of WBI, an associate professor of health education at San Francisco State University (SFSU), and co-director of Community Health Works of San Francisco, a partnership program of City College of San Francisco and SFSU. Fernández-Peña is also a senior fellow at the Center for the Health Professions at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
“Our program guides, assists and supports foreign-trained health professionals to reach the gold standards for licensure in the United States,” Fernández-Peña said. “We strive to connect them with communities where they’re sorely needed.”
For nearly two decades, John Matsui has advocated for increasing access to higher education among all individuals, particularly those from underserved, underrepresented groups who historically have not participated. He co-founded and serves as director of the Biology Scholars Program (BSP) at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley). BSP is a national model for supporting low-income and first-generation students in science and health careers. Matsui is also the assistant dean for biological sciences at UC Berkeley.
“My students are destined to go back to their communities,” Matsui said. “For them, professional is personal. As health care providers, they will provide the type of care that comes from the heart.”
The California Wellness Foundation is a private independent foundation created in 1992 with a mission to improve the health of the people of California by making grants for health promotion, wellness education and disease prevention. The Foundation prioritizes eight issues for funding: diversity in the health professions, environmental health, healthy aging, mental health, teenage pregnancy prevention, violence prevention, women’s health, and work and health. It also responds to timely issues and special projects outside the funding priorities.
Since its founding in 1992, TCWF has awarded 6,213 grants totaling more than $780 million. Please visit TCWF’s website at www.calwellness.org for more information, including a newsroom section devoted to the Champions of Health Professions Diversity Award and the three honorees. High-resolution photos are also available.
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“The” in “The California Wellness Foundation” is part of the Foundation’s legal name. Please do not drop or lowercase the “T.”