To address the shortage of health care professionals in the state and promote diversity in health education, the California Department of Health Care Access and Information recently invested nearly $41 million across more than 20 higher education institutions and organizations through the Health Professions Pathways Program (HPPP).

The primary goal of HPPP is to encourage and support disadvantaged and underrepresented individuals who plan to pursue health careers, which will also lead to a more culturally competent workforce. Awardee institutions received funding based on their commitment to three components: pathway programs, paid summer internships for undergraduates, and one-year post-undergraduate fellowships.

California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH), a Hispanic-Serving Institution in south Los Angeles County, received $3.3 million. As of 2022, Hispanic and Latinx individuals comprised nearly two-thirds of the student body. 

Mi-Sook Kim
Mi-Sook Kim

CSUDH will utilize the funding to implement several initiatives over five years through its College of Health, Human Services, and Nursing (CHHSN) to support and engage students in various health care fields. The programs meet the university’s larger goal of advancing economic mobility by providing financial support and career opportunities for a largely economically disadvantaged student population, says Mi-Sook Kim, PhD, dean of the college.

One such initiative is the summer internship program, open to 20 undergraduate students each year. Participants placed in health-related internships will each receive a $5,000 stipend from CSUDH to help offset the need to work and create more opportunities to explore their chosen careers. Along similar lines, CHHSN operates a program that provides up to $25,000 over one year to five recent graduates. The funding allows eligible students to enhance their health care careers by pursuing advanced health-related degrees or through other pathways.

Financial support programs are especially critical given the university’s large population of traditional and non-traditional students who often need to work and may take jobs outside their career fields, says Kim.

“As soon as they graduate, they jump into a part-time job because they’re desperate, and they need to support their family,” Kim says. “That’s why we’re trying to support these students, so they can explore further and open up other opportunities to advance their education.”

A portion of the HPPP funding will be crucial in providing competitive wages to attract, retain, and support more faculty from diverse backgrounds. Although CHHSN’s faculty diversity is higher than the national average — about 50 percent are from underrepresented groups.— it is important to bring in more underrepresented faculty to better reflect the demographics of its student population, says Kim.

Financial support programs are especially critical given the university’s large population of traditional and nontraditional students who often need to work and may take jobs outside their career fields.

In addition, CHHSN is implementing its own pathway program for incoming learners, including first-year and transfer students. They will explore various health careers and how to achieve their goals in the industry. Through the program, the college is also strengthening its relationships with high schools and community colleges in the region to encourage more students of color to pursue health care education. Additionally, students will have access to a peer mentorship and advising program, to ensure they feel connected.

Given the ongoing shortage of health care workers, linked to burnout and COVID-19, HPPP funding comes at an important moment, and it allows schools like CSUDH to help shape a more diverse health workforce for the future, says Enrique Ortega, PhD, associate dean.

“We’re going through an unfortunate period where there’s a dire need for more health care professionals in so many different areas,” he says. “We see this as the perfect time to marry that unfortunate circumstance with what the industry and society have been asking for in terms of having a more diverse workforce.”

This article was published in our January/February 2023 issue.