Dealing with disparities

By Nikkole Christensen

A new partnership is generating additional funds for U Hispanic students interested in the public health field.

The U School of Medicine, department of family and preventive medicine, the Public Health Program and the Utah Hispanic Business Leadership Foundation (UHBLF) are working together to increase funds for the Sen. Pete Suazo Memorial Endowed Hispanic Scholarship in public health. The endowment fund was created in 2002 and provides money for Hispanic students going into the public health field.

Hispanics are the largest minority group in Utah but are underrepresented in the health-care field, according to the 2001 Utah Hispanic Health Survey Report conducted by the Utah State Department of Health.

Breelyn Hansen, a junior in English and biology, works at the U Hospital as a health-care assistant in the medical-surgical unit. She believes that an increase in Hispanic health-care workers would greatly benefit the patients and staff at the hospital.

“I usually have at least one patient a shift who doesn’t speak English,” Hansen said. “And at night, it’s even harder to get help from a translator. We try to communicate through hand motions.”

In addition to basic communication, Lorena Riffo-Jenson, spokeswoman for UHBLF, said having more Hispanic professionals in the health-care industry will bring more attention to the Hispanic community in hospital policy decisions.

“The more (Hispanic) professionals in public health, the more issues impacting the Latino community will be considered when policies are being made,” Riffo-Jenson said.

The additional money added to the endowment fund will eventually provide full-ride scholarships for two Hispanic students. George L. White Jr., director of the U’s public health department and founder of the endowment fund, said this scholarship would help reduce disparities in health care.

“Increasing the number of Hispanic public health professionals will be a major factor in helping us reach (the) goal (of eliminating disparities),” White said.

The scholarship money will help provide Hispanic students with funds necessary for obtaining degrees. In order to be eligible, a student must be Hispanic/Latina/o and a matriculated student in the Public Health Program.

“As the endowment fund grows, the Public Health Program will be able to offer more scholarships or increase the amount awarded,” White said.

The UHBLF will contribute $5,000 per year for three years for the endowment fund, and the U public health department will match that donation every year.