Fall 2018 Catalyst
Having a robust, diverse workforce of doctors, nurses and other medical practitioners is tantamount to providing the best health care possible for Pennsylvanians, as well as improving the care-delivery model of the future.
Health care workers are in such high demand that the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the United States will need to hire 2.3 million medical practitioners by the year 2025. As the need for medical professionals continues on this tremendous growth trajectory, it is imperative that the workforce solidly reflects our society at large because diversity brings about enhanced communication, access to care, patient satisfaction and decreased health disparities. Cultural competence has gained attention as an important strategy to improve quality and access, and eliminate racial/ethnic disparities in health care.
That’s why the United Health Foundation — the philanthropic arm of UnitedHealth Group — has forged relationships with nine nonprofit and civic organizations — including the American Indian College Fund, Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund, Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, The Jackie Robinson Foundation, National Association of Hispanic Nurses, National Hispanic Health Foundation, National Medical Fellowships Inc. and the United Negro College Fund — to create the Diverse Scholars Initiative.
The program is laser-focused on identifying and developing diverse talent that will be essential in delivering culturally competent care and ultimately elevate the quality of service, bolster innovation and help create a 21st Century workforce. Through the initiative, undergraduate, graduate and doctorate-level students across the country receive scholarships that enable them to pursue careers as health care professionals and make a difference in communities. Scholars must demonstrate financial need, the pursuit of a degree that will lead to a career as a primary care health professional and a commitment to working in underserved communities.
“Creating a future health workforce that meets a community’s diverse and distinct health care needs is critical to building healthier communities,” said Chris Stidman, president of the United Health Foundation. “Increasing access to culturally competent care helps reduce health care disparities and improves health outcomes.”
Students who are part of the program also want to give back, as many of them go on to work in low-income areas and community health centers where they address issues affecting population health and access to care. According to America’s Health Rankings, a healthcare information project of the UnitedHealth Foundation, only about 149 primary care physicians are available for every 100,000 people across the country. And by 2030, fightchronicdisease.org reports that 29 percent more people will be living with chronic conditions than there are today.
With this in mind, Pennsylvania can play a huge role in grooming and developing the next generation of health care professionals, as it is a state with that offers an array of distinguished academic institutions, industries that support and augment the health care sector — and diverse talent.
Take Claire Hoffman from Lehigh Valley. A job-shadowing program during her junior year of high school led her to pursue her dream to be a physician. Matched with a pediatrician as a mentor, Claire’s initial interest in science steered closer toward health. She continues that journey today. Now a sophomore at Harvard University, Claire plans to major in neurobiology and attend medical school after graduation. Understanding the financial burden that comes with a career in the health care field, Claire applied for and received a Diverse Scholars Initiative scholarship through the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
“Even with financial aid, college can be an incredibly costly experience,” Hoffman says. “This scholarship makes paying for school without large student loans a much more realistic possibility for me, which I am eternally grateful for.”
Hoffman also recently participated in the DSI forum in Washington, D.C. Hosted by the United Health Foundation, the event welcomed 100-plus scholarship recipients for several days of educational presentations to learn more about health care quality improvement, technology, innovation and policy. At the forum, Hoffman connected with other aspiring health care professionals and fellow scholarship recipients from across the country.
Kyle Gleaves, a student at Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine in Scranton, is also a scholarship recipient who attended the DSI forum. Growing up alongside an older brother with autism, Gleaves always understood how disease can affect not only patients, but their families.
Hoping to become the type of compassionate specialist who cared for his brother, Gleaves became dedicated to studying internal medicine. Throughout his time at Geisinger, his passion for internal medicine strengthened as he educated homeless shelter residents about health topics and took on the challenge of trying to diagnose patients during his inpatient rotations. As a physician, Gleaves hopes to give back to the community that helped inspire him to study and serve others in the health care field.
“As the cost of tuition increases, many students are turning away from medicine altogether,” Gleaves said. “It is because of this problem that I believe it is important to invest in the next-generation health workforce.”
Since the inception of the Diverse Scholars Initiative in 2007, the United Health Foundation has provided more than $18 million in funding in support of nearly 2,400 scholarships.
“While African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans make up 33 percent of the population in the United States, just under 9 percent of practicing physicians identify as members of these groups. Through their generosity and steadfast support since 2009, the United Health Foundation has helped the Jackie Robinson Foundation address the root of this problem — education,” said Della Britton Baeza, CEO of the Jackie Robinson Foundation. “Together we are helping to create a more diverse and equitable pipeline of physicians and other health care professionals to close this unacceptable gap in our workforce.”
In 2018, several Pennsylvania students were selected as DSI scholars and are attending various medical schools, including: Drexel University School of Medicine, Harvard University, Penn State Abington, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Temple University, The Commonwealth Medical College and the University of Delaware.
In addition to the philanthropic efforts throughout the United Health Foundation, UnitedHealthcare is also working in concert with other state organizations, like the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia and its “GrowPA initiative,” a collaboration of chambers and organizations throughout the state, to help build the state’s workforce of the future. And with state’s strong roots in industries such as heavy manufacturing, energy and agriculture, there is a lot to be said about the steadfastness of the Pennsylvania’s workforce — and how it can be a key contributor to the health care space.
The need for culturally competent, quality health care providers has never been so great. By attracting, training and deploying primary care providers and other health care professionals, UnitedHealthcare is helping to modernize and improve the U.S. health care system, as well as build the Pennsylvania workforce.
For more information about this important health care initiative, visit the Diverse Scholars Initiative page on UnitedHealthGroup.com.
Founded in 1916, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry is the state's largest broad-based business association, with its membership comprising businesses of all sizes and across all industry sectors. The PA Chamber is The Statewide Voice of BusinessTM.