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Portland State University
Published: 16 February 2018

Attracting a diverse generation of doctors, nurses and health professionals that reflects Portland’s increasingly diverse population is the aim of a new academic health scholarship created through a collaboration among Portland State University, Kaiser Permanente and Portland Leadership Foundation.

Over the next five years, 100 PSU students will receive $5,000 Ignite scholarships to complete their pre-health undergraduate education at PSU. This fall, 10 scholars will be selected. 

Pre-health students take science-heavy courses to prep for professional schools in medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy, allied health, optometry, physical therapy, occupational therapy, etc. Portland State prepares over 3,000 pre-health students each year, offering future health professionals rigorous science classes and deep connections into the local health care job market.

All current PSU pre-health students who have been enrolled for at least two terms are eligible to apply for the Ignite scholarship. Applications are now available to PSU students online, and the deadline to apply is Feb. 28.

But the monetary award is just one part of the comprehensive social, career and academic supports that scholarship recipients will receive as part of the program. Through orientation events, mentorship opportunities and special courses, Ignite scholars will receive a full suite of offerings to guide them through the often complex pathway into a health career. 

“It’s not a solo journey,” said Melissa Yates, Pathway advising director at PSU. “We want to work with them to match the experience to their goals.”

They’ll also be welcomed into a cohort of fellow students that will shepherd them throughout their pre-health journey.

“This is something that we’ve been dreaming of for years,” says Yates. “Our pre-health advising team has consistently heard from our students that they would like more of a sense of community.” 

Ignite scholars will be invited to engage with colleagues on campus — classmates, incoming students, faculty and staff — and with health care and community partners outside the school, including Kaiser Permanente and Portland Leadership Foundation.

Another important component of the scholarship is that recipients must be committed to mentoring others. 

“They’ll welcome in new students as we continue to recruit,” said Adam Ristick, director of scholarships at Portland Leadership Foundation. “This will make the impact of the program much broader than just the 100 students who receive scholarships, because they will mentor approximately 500 other students over the first five years of the program. We’re hoping to identify young leaders who want to step into the pre-health field and make an impact,” said Ristick.

Selection criteria for the scholarship include financial need, as well as the applicant’s interest in the mentorship and leadership aspect of the program. 

Ristick said the application is very accessible. “We want it to be easy to apply for.”

Kaiser Permanente has contributed $250,000 toward the scholarship portion of the program, plus support of Portland Leadership Foundation’s role in creating support offerings for Ignite scholars. The project leaders hope to inspire other health care organizations to participate as well, so that even more students may receive scholarships and that the program can continue for years to come.

“One of the most meaningful things we can do to shape the future of health care is invest in the next generation of health workers,” said Ruth Williams-Brinkley, president of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals of the Northwest. “We’ve seen firsthand how creating a diverse workforce can improve a community’s health over time. When a care provider shares a language, heritage or cultural background with a patient, for example, the patient is more likely to have a better health outcome.” 

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