Health Professions Education Foundation

Giving Golden Opportunities

Health Professions Education Foundation (HPEF) testimonials are from 2013-2014 awardees. As HPEF continues to build the testimonial component of our website, we hope to add awardee testimonials from previous years.

Michael Moribe

2013-2014 Allied Healthcare Scholarship Program Awardee
San Diego, CA

I was a recent MSW graduate from SDSU bright eyed and anxious to leave my mark on the world. Spending a long 6 years of my college life learning and honing my skills as a clinician, I was eager to start accumulating clinical hours in order to provide therapeutic services to clients in any setting. Unfortunately I had other obligations that had to be addressed since I graduated. Having no financial resources I was forced to take student loans to support myself and pay for tuition. When I graduated I was no longer protected by the subsidies of my loans and financial payback was required immediately. Most jobs that I discovered that paid well did not offer clinical hours or required outside paid supervision. On the other hand, jobs that provided supervision and that were formatted to acquire hours quickly paid far less than other available jobs. Knowing that I had a family to support and also having to pay the loans off on a monthly basis, I was prepared to concede my dreams and aspirations for financial security for the family. In doing so I took a job in Escondido providing case management services and acting as a broker for mental health services. Although the job paid well, I was not acquiring any clinical hours and I began to see my dream of becoming an LCSW fade slowly. A colleague then introduced me to Health Professions Education Foundation's MHLAP (Mental Health Loan Assumption Program). I quickly learned that the program would assist me in paying for my student loans if I were to simply work in a county or county contracted mental health career. This allowed me the opportunity to explore my goal of becoming a licensed therapist again without worrying about loan payments that would be looming over my head for the next 5 years. I applied for the program and was accepted. I now work as a Forensic Mental Health Clinician at a job that I enjoy while accumulating clinical hours and being supervised as part of the regular program. Although I have taken a reduction in pay in comparison with my previous job, I have now set myself up to pursue my ultimate career goal. This opportunity and current situation that I find myself in would never have been possible without the support from the Health Professions Education Foundation and its MHLAP.

Omar Otis

2013-2014 Allied Healthcare Scholarship Program Awardee
Camarillo, CA

I currently work in an underserved and unserved population in the Oxnard, CA community. I have the opportunity to provide mental health services as a case coordinator and co-facilitator in rehabilitation groups. In my community, there are large needs to help the Transitional Age Youth. My role is to provide supportive counseling services and to help develop coping strategies to improve their quality of life. The scholarship funds allow me to focus on the needs from the community rather than stress about the financial pressures while continuing my education in a Master's Program for social work. These award funds have helped with furthering my growth within the agency as a clinical social worker. I would like to offer my thank you for the 2013-2014 scholarship.

Monica De La Rosa

2013-2014 Allied Healthcare Scholarship Program Awardee
Oxnard, CA

I would like to express my gratitude for your support for my 2014 award. Growing up in Southern California has its sunny and warm weather, beautiful beaches, and fabulous homes. However, there is also a different side to these gorgeous communities, and those not so beautiful things are the ones that interested me to work in the field of behavioral health. My interest in working in this field began with my own upbringing, and experience of my family's lifestyle, neighborhoods, and being part of an underserved population.

I accrued educational loans in order to obtain my Masters in Social Work to make the changes in my communities that I have experienced and observed. Currently I provide therapy to transitional aged youths (TAY 18-25 years old), who have a severe mental health disorder, little to no support from family, are homeless, have medical health issues, and struggle with functioning in their day-to-day life. So I hope that all of you at HPEF know my deepest gratitude for your trust and financial support in assisting me to pay off my educational loans, as it empowers me to become healthier, in both my physical and emotional state, as well as in my work performance to bring about lasting changes in myself and to those I serve (Transitional Aged Youth and their families).

Kathy Rozell

2013-2014 Allied Healthcare Loan Repayment Program Awardee
Chula Vista, CA

My name is Kathy and I have been working in nonprofit agencies since graduating from college in 2004. For almost ten years, I have worked in an agency that services underprivileged families whose children suffer from mental illness. Most of the families' children have suffered numerous traumas and have been psychiatrically hospitalized or have been screened for hospitalization due to the degree of their symptoms and danger to themselves or others. Our goal is to provide the family hope while stabilizing their children and family, providing a safety net and linking them to supports within their community and locating natural supports that they can utilize when our services close. My job is challenging but rewarding, knowing I am saving lives.

This HPEF award has helped honor the hard work that I have done and helped ease the burden of the loans that I accrued while going to school full time and raising three children after my divorce. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to be one of the chosen.

Lisa Nicholson

2013-2014 Allied Healthcare Loan Repayment Program Awardee
Van Nuys, CA

I am so excited to be an HPEF awardee! I cannot tell you how this award has released me from the load a burden debt causes. The first check came approximately 1-2 months ago, and I was so happy to be able to give such a large amount as payment! Thank God! I finally feel as if I am making true progress in paying off the loan amount instead of dropping pennies down a giant well. I used to get very discouraged and frustrated whenever the bill for my loan would come and whenever I looked at my pay check knowing I needed to make a payment and not seeing a way to make the payment bigger, so that it actually made a dent in the loan.

I am able to enjoy my work more now. And, because I know the award is tied to the work I do and the population I work with, it makes me feel an even deeper sense of dedication and commitment. I thank God for this award and all the people and behind the scenes work and people who make it possible. It is truly a blessing not just to me but to my family as well. You should have seen my husband's smile when I told him about being blessed and chosen as an awardee!

Angela Enright

2013-2014 Bachelor of Science Nursing Scholarship Program Awardee
Yuba City, CA

Going back to school was a huge challenge for me. I come from a very poor family and after high school graduation I was pretty much on my own. I had always dreamed of becoming a nurse but didn't know how I was ever going to get there. I went to college shortly after graduation and become a medical assistant. It was a great job but with a family I didn't have time or money for school. I worked as a medical assistant for five years before I went back to college to get my LVN degree. In 1999 I started working in an ambulatory hospital, and I loved it. I love being a nurse. It's the most rewarding job that there is. I was determined, somehow, some way I was going to be a RN one day.

After about ten years I finally had the courses needed for the RN program. I did the step-up program from LVN to RN and in one year I became the RN that I'd dreamt of becoming. With all the changes in the hospital, I felt it was important for a nurse to learn and to know all that I could and to be the best nurse that I could be. So, on that note, I started checking into BSN programs, and they are expensive!

The HPEF gave me the opportunity to achieve my goal and helped in a way that's indescribable. It has helped me live my dream, and I can't thank them enough. I am now the first person in my family with a bachelor's degree. I continue to work in the hospital that, I myself was born in and in which I delivered my babies. I work in labor and delivery and with my BSN I am able to work in management to maintain the highest quality of care for our patients and to continue growing in the health profession.

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Valeria Flores-Rivero

2013-2014 Bachelor of Science Nursing Scholarship Program Awardee
Palo Alto, CA

I was granted the HPEF award during a time in my nursing school career where I was feeling discouraged and overwhelmed with the many bills that kept arriving for my nursing books and supplies as the school year was getting more hectic. I am currently attending San Jose State University and am in my fourth semester- with only two more to go before I can be one more wonderful "hero" of a nurse in the world with all the knowledge and inspiration that nursing school has been building in my persona for the past year and a half.

I'm very excited to become an RN and to help others the same way I have been helped. I will forever be grateful to have been awarded because, without it, I wouldn't have been able to buy books that I needed for the semester. Without books, I wouldn't have been able to finish the semester in such a strong way! I believe it is in the essence of the basic things that a human soul encounters a passion and dedication to continue- and when there is help and support, the dedication and journey are just that much more pleasant. Thank you, Health Professions Education Foundation for believing in me and helping me during my journey through nursing school!

Matthew Smith

2013-2014 Bachelor of Science Nursing Loan Repayment Program Awardee
Sacramento, CA

I am extremely grateful to the OSHPD organization for the amazing work they do to ensure quality, comprehensive care is delivered to the people in our communities that need it the most. I chose to work at the UC Davis Medical Center, despite opportunities to make more money elsewhere, because they pride themselves in being on the front lines of healthcare delivery to Sacramento's most needy populations. I feel blessed and honored to have been awarded this loan repayment opportunity. Nursing was my second career, so I was challenged by starting college over again at 25. The climate in the greater Sacramento region for being accepted into BSN nursing programs is extremely competitive and requires near perfect grades in pre-requisite classes. Knowing this and wanting more than anything, a career devoted to taking care of people and their families, I quit work and took out loans to support my family. I had to focus on getting the grades I needed to succeed in this career. We had a child while I was in nursing school, putting a little more strain on the family. This award will be a great comfort, supporting all the sacrifices we made as a family, so I could pursue a truly meaningful career dedicated to taking care of other people. This award from HPEF takes some "sting" out of the sacrifices my family endured, so I could pursue a career taking care of others' loved ones and will relieve some of the burden pursuing my dreams put on the ones I love. Thank you, and I am forever grateful!

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Jaseon Outlaw

2013-2014 Licensed Mental Health Services Provider Education Program
San Leandro, CA

Being awarded the Health Professions Education Foundation award has had a positive effect on my career. The award has allowed me to serve a broader subset of our population, particularly individuals who are unable to cover my fee. By serving Oakland and the surrounding cities of Oakland, I reach a fairly wide range of clients, who are less likely to seek mental health services.

I completed graduate studies, the pre-doctoral residency, and a postdoctoral fellowship out-of-state and I really wanted to give back to my community. I am honored to serve as one of the few African-American male psychologists under 40 in the area.

I thank the Health Professions Education Foundation for allowing me this opportunity.

Joaquin Galeano

2013-2014 Licensed Mental Health Services Provider Education Program
Palm Springs, CA

I believe almost every child has the potential to be a major contributor to society when adults tap into his or her strengths and when adults support the child's abilities and foster his or her skills. There seems to be the assumption that disadvantaged children will not go that far due to their communities or environments. HPEF has given me the opportunity and encouragement to continue working with underserved communities, and underprivileged, children in an attempt to help children further develop their gifts.

For the purpose of this testimonial, I will refer to my student as R. R has had an extensive history of troubles at school due to behavioral problems. R was expelled from a regular school due to aggression, defiant behavior and tagging. As a result of these offenses, R was placed at an alternative school and was referred to mental health services. R was very resistant to mental health services at first, but once he developed rapport with this writer, he opened up and disclosed some painful early life history related to child abuse and neglect, as well as a history of multiple foster homes. R's troubles appeared to have a strong connection with all this history of child maltreatment and abandonment.

Given R's history of tagging, he was encouraged to express his artistic skills, thoughts and feelings in a more pro-social artistic way. R was encouraged to focus his skills toward messages that were uplifting, a message of hope for youth at his school. Thus, R was commissioned by school personnel to create a piece to display at school. He is currently working on his creation. R is proud of the opportunity that has been given to him. Adults tapped into his abilities. His tagging has evolved from a representation of anger and resentment, to an art of healing and an expression of hope and growth.

Karla Lagunas

2013-2014 Mental Health Loan Assumption Program Awardee
Los Angeles, CA

I work at a community mental health agency in the metro area of Los Angeles. Our community is largely Hispanic and the majority of the families I work with are monolingual Spanish speakers.

As a newly licensed LCSW working in the heart of Los Angeles, I am indebted to HPEF and the MHLAP program. Thanks to the support of this program, I have been an integral part of improving the access this community has to quality mental health services that is provided in their native language. Many agencies throughout my county have waiting lists for Spanish Speaking families and I am happy to share that my agency can attend to any client equally, regardless of the language they speak.

MHLAP helps me to reduce my student loan debt, so I can continue to provide services in this area and stay within the public mental health system.

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Rizaldy Ferrer

2013-2014 Mental Health Loan Assumption Program Awardee
Los Angeles, CA

The compounding effects of severe mental illness, homelessness, poverty, drug abuse, prostitution and/or crimes leading to poor well-being persist in the heart of Skid Row in the city of Los Angeles. These problems are real accounts of consumers I have served in Downtown Mental Health Center of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. Many have wanted to abandon the neighborhood due to hostile and stressful conditions. However, they reportedly feel trapped because of their continued experience of marginalization from their outside "world" including, but not limited to lack of suitable employment and social resources. The stigma towards mental illness, for example put them at a disadvantage to obtain jobs. Whilst mental health services are available and albeit robust, it may seem inadequate to sustain psychological stability.

I do my best to minimize the distress of those I serve. The 2013-2014 HPEF award I received is a validation that my hard work and commitment are recognized and valued. For that, I am enormously grateful. There are still a number of things we need to know and develop in order to address the need of people with mental illness in the neighborhood of Skid Row. The HPEF inspires and motivates health providers, including myself to continue to persevere and advance our careers. Subsequently, we become more efficient instruments to reducing human suffering.

John Black

2013-2014 Mental Health Loan Assumption Program Awardee
Modesto, CA

Over 30 years ago my ambitions, hopes and dreams faded. At that time I slowly found myself imprisoned inside my mind as the onset of my first psychotic break introduced me to a world riddled with mental illness that destroyed my life. The episodes were horrific as family members, friends and business associates watched the disease take its course. For years I felt like I had failed my family friends and that my life was over. Even so I began to access care at a Stanislaus County Regional outpatient facility.

Recovery Happens: Peer Support
My world changed as I listened and learned from others who seemed to have risen above their destructive and humiliating past. I began my first step into service work as I helped to provide coffee and warm space at a local drop-in center. The volunteer tasks were minimal yet I began to feel a sense of belonging and really felt the unity amongst my peers. My service benefits were twofold. Not only was I helping others in their quest for sobriety but also for the first time I too remained sober. Now educated on the facts about sobriety my life took on new meaning. This service work, backed by a strong conviction to follow my psychiatrist's direction, proved very beneficial in opening the gates to freedom. Armed with a vision of hope and a reluctance to remain on Social Security, I chose to volunteer. My first mental health volunteer job was during the development of a new conceptual Stanislaus county mental health program, Wellness Recovery Center. We answered calls for peers and facilitated recovery support groups at a variety of locations including inpatient psychiatric hospital settings. I soon achieved purpose as a peer mentor. The position raised my self-esteem and fired my imagination. Now my career has expanded into a position with Stanislaus County as the Behavioral Health and Recovery Service Peer Advocate with assignment as coordinator of Wellness Recovery Center. In addition I founded and serve as CEO of Peer Recovery Art Project a community service emotional health and wellness organization.

Reintegration: Community
I set high goals for my education and received full scholarships at the junior college level. I served as a teacher's aide and received recognition as a goodwill ambassador to the college due to my efforts to enroll others. In 2010 I finished my studies at California State University at Stanislaus, participating in a leadership development program, and my bachelor degree in Social Sciences with Phi Kappa Phi honors. The long road of reconstruction filled with heartache and feelings of uselessness has now subsided. I have become through my life's experiences a better man. My example of strong recovery and perseverance has set the tone for others who may struggle on their respective paths to freedom. My life is full of passion and through my production company I have raised thousands of dollars for charity and developed a widely recognized Peer Recovery Art Project Incorporated and speak regularly on College gatherings. Even with all the education and now 61 years of age I found the high student loan payments a burden on my family budget. With the MHLAP award, I can breathe a sigh of relief. Now I can focus even harder on my recovery to try to be a model for others. I believe in recovery from mental illness, I live it and I share it!

Richard Gray

2013-2014 Mental Health Loan Assumption Program Awardee
Yucca Valley, CA

I have been working as a therapist for 13 years in the naturally spectacular and socially deprived Morongo Basin in Southern California. I was raised here, with my single mother, a twin brother, and the occasional temporary presence of our father. Without diagnosing my own family members, it is safe to say we all suffered from mental health disorders that would go on undiagnosed and untreated until I sought help. Inspired by that and subsequent help, I dreamed of being a therapist for decades, and of working in a small rural population like my own growing up. With your help I have taken that goal one step further. I am serving the population of my previous home, years later, providing the sort of mental health services that, had they been available when I was young, could have saved my family from so much suffering. This single ironic fact inspires me every day. I work in a County Contract Agency serving the indigent and the valley's most severe mental health clients, in one of the poorest counties in the nation, and I can do this more wholeheartedly with the help of three years of assistance repaying my student loans for my Master's degree. This help significantly elevates my income so I can relax, serve the population I feel the deepest empathy for, and not struggle finding enough time for self-care, as I am not a young man anymore. I can plan to retire from full time work someday and open a small low fee and pro bono office in the eastern most part of this valley to find and help those who cannot access healthcare now and begin to build gay, lesbian, transgender, and queer social services in a place devoid of these supports. I will also continue to work with the homeless, another underserved population here. I am so appreciative of the financial assistance, but also of the inherent encouragement and recognition these awards extend symbolically and actually. What we therapists do is confidential, done behind closed doors, and the evidence of our efforts lives on in others. The welcome and real support from your program is more inspiring and encouraging than you can ever realize.

Lynnaia Keune

2013-2014 Mental Health Loan Assumption Program Awardee
Sacramento, CA

Once, again, I want to thank you for the commitment that HPEF has created to inspire a diverse healthcare workforce. As the Clinical Director of La Familia Counseling Center, Inc., I have been employed since 2000, and seen the difference in the workforce at LFCC from when I began to the current time. Because of your encouragement to the unserved and underserved communities of Sacramento, youth have stepped up to apply to colleges and continue on to graduate school. Each year, LFCC welcomes graduate students as trainees, and we always hope to have the bilingual students apply. Out of the 15 clinical staff we have currently, only two do not speak a second language, but one of them is African American and one is Caucasian who represent their communities as well. Whenever a position is vacant, I encourage grad students and bilingual persons to apply to ensure our workforce meets the demands of the communities we serve.

Whenever the application period begins, I ensure that everyone gets the emails and encourage them to apply. I will be certain to promote your 2015 application cycle.

Personally, having my school loan be reduced by approximately $9,000 each year, has helped me to plan my retirement much earlier than if it hadn't been awarded. Instead of being 76 years old, I am now looking at retirement years earlier. Thank you so much. It has taken so much stress off me and worry about what I would do if I couldn't work.

Karla Reynoso

2013-2014 Mental Health Loan Assumption Program Awardee
Hawaiian Gardens, CA

Having worked for underserved communities for over 4 years is one of my greatest rewards in life. Thanks to this experience, I have been able to be trained in many different programs that are extremely helpful to these families. For me, seeing families doing better regarding their mental health is what motivates my dedication to the program each and every day. Underserved families are really appreciative for having professionals walking with them in the path of life and that is what makes a difference in the community.

Receiving an award from HPEF made me feel so appreciated and valuable. I can't find the words to say how much this award has helped me with my student loan.

Norma Marquez

2013-2014 Mental Health Loan Assumption Program Awardee
Bakersfield, CA

I first wanted to thank HPEF for selecting me as one of its awardees. I have been working with the mentally ill underserved communities for over 13 years, and my experience has been challenging, as well as, very rewarding. I have had the opportunity to meet some unique and amazing individuals that have definitely taught me the meaning of resilience and hope. Many underserved individuals lack basic living needs (i.e., food, shelter, clothing etc.), but manage to find strength within a world filled with numerous and unimaginable challenges. It is through their life stories, cultural beliefs, method of coping, and sense of resilience that I find myself continuously dedicated and motivated to work with the underserved communities. I also find myself working in collaboration with multiple community agencies (i.e., Social Security Administration, Adult and/or Child Protective Services, Department of Humans Services, Kern Regional Center, schools, hospitals, law enforcement etc.) to ensure that the individuals within the underserved communities are provided with appropriate supportive and needed mental health, educational, residential, medical and/or financial services. I have found myself experiencing high sense of frustration, at times, related to the lack of resources for underserved communities, but your partnership strategy gives me hope that underserved communities will soon see a change for the better.

This past year was filled with new and exciting challenges. I found myself experiencing increased confidence in the implementation of various therapeutic modalities, participated in various trainings related to cultural competence/sensitivity, obtained my Spanish writing certification, and continued to obtain regular supervision and case consultation etc. Our agency highly promotes the recovery model and encourages active participation of clients within their mental health treatment. I support our agency's mission and was excited to hear about the development of a new brief counseling program for adolescents. As a professional, I try my best to provide the best and most professional service to all families/individuals served. The HPEF award depicts the need placed on the importance of serving the underserved communities. It also motivates other professionals to become part of a remarkable and memorable professional experience. I hope that more and more professionals become interested in offering their services to California's medically underserved communities.

Lacee Lanier

2013-2014 Mental Health Loan Assumption Program Awardee
Rialto, CA

As a licensed clinical social worker, I am honored to fulfill the essential role in meeting the mental health needs of diverse, at-risk, underserved, and disenfranchised populations in the County mental health system. My passion has given me the ability to provide services to the individuals and families at-risk for substance abuse and mental health disorders as well as learning to identify the vulnerabilities of those at risk that are influenced by biological, behavioral, socio-demographic and cultural factors. As a supervisor and a field liaison, I have had the opportunity to work closely with students and pre-licensed staff to mentor them and develop their skills in social work. My teaching includes a longstanding commitment to cultural sensitivity and social justice. My position as a professional and a supervisor is to be a positive role model and demonstrate good leadership while addressing the gaps in mental health prevention and treatment services for vulnerable and underserved populations. I advocate for policy changes that affect individuals and families in the mental health arena and those that directly affect the service that we provide as a nonprofit-government agency.

Thanks to the foundation, I am one-step closer to that goal of paying off my student loans. By awarding me the HPEF loan repayment, my financial burden has been lightened. This allows me to focus on the most important aspect of my responsibilities as a crisis mobile team supervisor, a student intern liaison and a supervisor to pre-licensed staff for BBS licensure. Your generosity has further allowed me to "pay it forward" to other non-profit community agencies through pro-bono services. I am forever grateful for your support. In turn I will continue to support and assist staff and students in successful applications for scholarships and loan repayment through the Health Professions Education Foundation. I am looking forward to maintaining the professional commitment in offering my support in return, by helping students, pre-licensed staff, as well as licensed professionals in achieving their goals just as the Foundation has assisted me. For this, I am eternally grateful.

Ryan Fuimaono

2013-2014 Mental Health Loan Assumption Program Awardee
San Francisco, CA

I am so very grateful for the Health Professions Education Foundation's support of my work providing direct patient care to a diverse cross section of San Francisco's most in need and under-served communities. My pursuit of a career in public health social work has been driven, not by the promise of financial success, but by my unwavering commitment to social responsibility and justice. Like millions of other young people in America, I made the choice of taking on hefty student debt in order to finance my education. I fully recognize that the education I received was a worthwhile endeavor that has since granted me countless opportunities that would not have been possible without the financial assistance I received. Thanks to the Health Professions Education Foundation's generous support, I am able to continue doing the important work of providing care to California's most marginalized under-served communities.

Janell Gagnon

2013-2014 Mental Health Loan Assumption Program Awardee
Thousand Palms, CA

The Health Professions Education Foundation (HPEF) award has helped me by allowing me to stay in the non-profit field. As many of us in the mental health field know, it's not necessarily a lucrative profession to enter into; especially if your heart is in the non-profit world working with low-income, underserved populations. Several times I have considered taking higher paying positions to be able to handle the financial burden of my student loans. By receiving the HPEF award this past year and the opportunity to receive the award in future years, I am able to better handle my student loan debt, and stay in my current position at SafeHouse, working with the un-served population who really need the services. I would like to say thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to continue my dream of helping those in need!

Sheree Summers

2013-2014 Mental Health Loan Assumption Program Awardee
Riverside, CA

Let me begin by extending a sincere and grateful thank you to the HPEF staff that has contributed to administering these necessary, important and inspiring "Golden Opportunities"! Your team's unique contributions also helps meet the growing and changing healthcare needs of our state- and they do not go unnoticed! I am a very fortunate recipient of the MHLAP award for the past 5 cycles. As a result of these awards, I have been able to stay and enjoy more than 7 years of challenging and rewarding service in public mental health!

Like so many professionals in this field, life experiences have helped mold and drive my commitment to serve others who do not have the resources they need to get the help they deserve. I firmly believe that our communities deserve the most competent and effective services available, regardless of ability to pay. I am an advocate for the underserved, disenfranchised and marginalized communities of my region, and as a new graduate, I actively sought training in public mental health. I wanted to train side-by-side with professionals who shared my passion and conviction to serve others. And that is exactly what I found. I hold fast to the belief that public service remains a very noble profession.

Now, as a staff development officer, I have the privilege of recruiting, training and supervising mental health professionals for my Department. Providing these services within my department helps me make the large scale impact that has contributed to a very satisfying career. My direct efforts and services allow those professionals to provide the effective, efficient and competent services that our communities deserve. I joined MHSA programs so that I too could play a central role in improving and transforming our service system, and that is the contribution I get to make every day.

As 2014 comes to a close, I have had the chance to review my successes and identify new areas of growth. Developing a workforce that is as diverse and representative of the populations we serve is an ongoing process. Although my dedication to public mental health is not exclusively linked to HPEF awards, this support has made a tremendous difference in my life and has made a career in public service achievable. Again, thank you for this opportunity to serve.

Denise Caramagno

2013-2014 Mental Health Loan Assumption Program Awardee
San Rafael, CA

I am a Bilingual Mental Health Practitioner employed by Marin County Mental Health and Substance Use Services Division. I work on a multi-disciplinary team serving older adults with severe and chronic mental illness who are also homeless or at risk of homelessness. My clients suffer a myriad of physical and mental health conditions and are often socially isolated and marginalized. For some of them I am their only regular human contact. Years of severe mental illness have taken a toll on their relationships and at a point in their lives when they should be able to be age with dignity they continue to struggle with poverty, unstable housing, and limited access to resources in addition to all the other challenges of aging such as loss and grief.

It has been an honor to employ my specialized skills in geriatric care and my Spanish language abilities to provide culturally competent services to this underserved and often misunderstood population. I went back to school later in life and the student loan debt I am burdened with could easily have been an obstacle to my ability to follow my passion and work with mentally ill older adults. I am thankful to Health Professions Education Foundation (HPEF) for their generous support. My grant has strengthened my commitment to the underserved population I work with. It has enabled me to dedicate myself to providing direct services to mentally ill older adults. My clients express their gratitude for the services our program is able to provide and it is rewarding to see people who have spent so many years suffering begin to stabilize, flourish and take on the appropriate developmental tasks of older age such as reflecting upon their lives. I have been able to support clients to access and settle into secure housing, receive regular medical and psychiatric care, and to benefit from regular human connection because HPEF has supported me to do so.

Lourdes Araujo

2013-2014 Mental Health Loan Assumption Program Awardee
Los Angeles, CA

As a social worker, one of my experiences as an immigrant woman and working with diverse groups is that I identify with the majority of my clients. I experienced both hardship and joy of living in the United States as did some of my patients I have spoken with in my profession. Listening to the different stories of my clients inspires me to make a difference in people's lives. With my perseverance and determination, I encourage my clients that they always have hope.

For instance, a homeless 56 year-old client was not able to receive mental health services, so that's when I decided to link him with the mental health treatment center. He has acquired housing, and he was very thankful because of this. One day during my lunch time, the individual approached me and asked "do you remember me?" I told him "no." Although I did not remember him, he continued to show gratitude by thanking me for the encouragement and chance to start over. He then stated "I began going to church, I got a job, and I started attending school." The client also said he will not forget my inspirational words when I told him to connect with his spirituality, perceiver for his goals, and the key for success is education. Another client who was 60 years old had a depression disorder due to his medical condition. The client was homeless for five years and was living on the street. He had no family or social support. I connected my client to an Exodus Integrated Program and he received medical assistance and a new apartment. These short stories make me happy that I chose to be a social worker, because I honestly make a difference in people's lives.

The HPEF award will impact my career because it will assist in paying off my school loans. There are many graduate students that struggle with this issue, therefore I am very fortunate and grateful that HPEF helped me because, ultimately, I chose my career to help others who have gone through hardship and need a chance as I did when I came to the United States.

Alysha McCuistion

2013-2014 Mental Health Loan Assumption Program Awardee
West Covina, CA

I feel so fortunate to have received an award from the Health Professions Education Foundation in 2014. I have worked as a Clinical Social Worker in community mental health for the past seven years and am so passionate about the work I'm able to do on a daily basis. Every day, I have the opportunity to hear stories from my clients about their tremendous needs, as well as their gratitude for the services my non-profit agency provides to the underserved mental health community. Receiving the HPEF award has enabled me to continue my work in community mental health while easing the financial burden from my graduate school student loans.

Cynthia Weary

2013-2014 Mental Health Loan Assumption Program Awardee
Fairfield, CA

I am truly grateful for receiving an award from HPEF. The impact of the award on my career continues to allow me to focus more on serving others without the overwhelming stress of wondering how I am going to pay my student loan. As a single mother, student loans have created a hardship, but each year that I have been blessed with an HPEF award has given me peace and gratitude for the people that review my application. The HPEF award is very rewarding and reduces my student loan but the wealth of knowledge and experiences that I gain from serving the underserved and unserved mental health community is humbling and PRICLESS. Last year I was so proud of the outstanding work done by the families that were served in the Full Service Partnership intensive program.

I began working with a woman that was rearing five of her relatives (nephews and nieces) as a single parent. The family was struggling with living in a high crime neighborhood. Additionally, their aunt struggled with her own mental illness, medical issues, low income, and there were other impairments within the family. The family was underserved prior to being referred to FSP program. My first contact with the woman was on the phone and her first remark to me was "I am a human being". She shared her past experiences with previous health care provider, social workers and other systems that did not treat her as a human. Throughout treatment with this family our team focused on validation, empowerment, listening, embracing their individual and family strengths, challenging, engaging the family in developing their goals, linking family to community resources, acknowledging their cultural/diversity and our team maintaining healthy boundaries with the family. The FSP team modeled communication skills and behavioral interactions which supported progress within relationship among family members. Last year this family was among five other families that graduated from my case load for their outstanding progress and successfully accomplishing their treatment plan goals. Each family was honored during a graduation ceremony and received a certificate for the progress towards wellness/recovery.

Sharon Nelson

2013-2014 Mental Health Loan Assumption Program Awardee
Oakland, CA

For most of my young adult life I struggled with my addiction to opiates. My usage can be traced back to when I earned my undergraduate degree in 1972. Being the oldest of six children and the first to go to college bought an extreme amount of pressure on me to succeed. During the early years of my recovery I started to understand the importance of living "one day at a time." Those five words enabled me to neutralize my overachiever's compulsive behavior to succeed. My journey then led me to acquire the sustainability necessary to empower myself to overcome barriers and many challenges that were yet to come in my life. I would struggle for almost 20 years with my addiction before I learned about bringing balance into my life, got out of the pity pot and came to realize that I was able to pursue my dreams of becoming a change agent.

The political/social climate of the 70's was that of protest, self-expression and change. I was so excited about the thoughts of living the American Dream. I was young, somewhat sheltered with minimal coping skills to face the world of what we refer today as "movers and shakers." When things weren't going as planned, the promotions not coming so fast and not knowing how to deal with rejection, I collapsed. The pain had become too much for me to bear and I hadn't yet learned to "live life on life's terms," nor did I have the patience to endure. I couldn't even find my self-esteem. I then turned to drugs for consolation.

One day I woke up and knew it was over. The family values that I had been taught as a child growing up came into view. I was reminded of what I was taught about the love of family, the importance of education and hard work, but most of all having trust in GOD.

Thanks to my family values, the 12 Step Fellowship Program, Outpatient Drug Programs and strong support system, I was able to integrate my life back into the mainstream of society as a productive citizen. And that is the way it's been for the past 26 years.

Today I am the Program Director for the West Oakland Outpatient Substance Abuse and Perinatal Programs where I have been employed since 1996. I am an elder in my church and have dedicated many volunteer hours working in the community serving the underserved population. Today, the most important thing to me is the respect and trust that my family and friends have for me.

Madeleine Gonzalez

2013-2014 Mental Health Loan Assumption Program Awardee
Long Beach, CA

I would like to take this time to express my deep and sincere appreciation to the Health Professions Education Foundation for all the support and help that I have received by the foundation. I have been blessed by all the awards granted to me. I have been gainfully employed and feeling the strain of the economic stressors that affect me financially. The Health Professions Education Foundation has alleviated many of my stresses making it possible to pay off my loans. This has allowed me to dedicate my full concentration on my work serving an underserved population in the community of Long Beach, California in Los Angeles County.

I have worked for Los Angeles Department of Mental Health, as a Psychiatric Social Worker since January 2009. I provide Functional Family Therapy, an evidence-based therapy to families. I conduct assessments, develop diagnoses, plan treatment and conduct crisis intervention and advocacy. I collaborate with teachers, counselors and other school staff, probations and the courts. I currently serve people of all ages, focusing on children, adolescents, young adults and families with diagnoses of Mental Health.

My interest in working with the underserved Hispanic community has grown over the years. As a Hispanic female, raised in an impoverished community with many limitations, I feel a sense of responsibility and duty to give back to the community. I would like to help those, who like me, are culturally diverse, have linguistic limitations and who are disadvantaged. I will continue to help them obtain services and resources from their communities that will improve their lives as I have been helped.

Nou Her

Health Professions Education Loan Repayment Program
Paradise, CA

My name is Nou Her. Currently I am working at the Feather River Health Center, which is through the Feather River Hospital in Paradise, CA. I have been an employee here since May 2005 and as a Registered Nurse and a Family Nurse Practitioner since October 2009. I deeply enjoy providing primary care and services to low income families and to many patients, many of whom are 18 years of age and older. I serve an average of 20-25 patients daily, many having multiple health conditions. However, I do not allow that to be an obstacle in my providing my patients with the care that they seek.

My life experiences have influenced me in wanting to work with the less fortunate in the community who are much like how I was prior to settling in the United States. I come from a large family, with me being the youngest of eleven siblings. Currently I have two surviving half siblings that are still alive in Laos, but the majority of my siblings passed away during the Vietnam War. My mother and half-brother passed away on February 6, 2014 and August 10, 2012 respectively. Growing up in poverty was difficult, where wealth was hard to come by and education was not an option. The only way to survive was farming. We woke up before the sun rises and return long after the sun sets. Fortunately, my mother, half-brother, and I migrated to the United States in June 1990 where I had the opportunity to get an education and advance in my career choice. Being the first and only child in my entire family to attend school and graduate from college, I was motivated and devoted to serving my community and providing them with health care.

I have lived in Butte County, an underserved community, since the day my family settled in the United States on June 20, 1990. Throughout my life I have encountered many people with challenges in accessing health care. I pursued a career in the health care profession so that I can serve those people who had disadvantages similar to those that I have faced, whether they are wealth, education or special conditions.

Being the head of my household, I face economic crisis like everyone else due to a tough economy. However, without the burden of a high loan on my shoulders, I have been able to focus on achieving my career goals to better serve the low income and retired members of my community who have restricted access to health care.

I continue to participate in educating my peers and health care professionals in western medicine about the Hmong culture. There is currently still a gap between the Hmong community and western medicine. I am doing the most I can to be the bridge that helps minorities overcome their fear of language barriers and the unknown when it comes to seeking western health care.

Jennifer Lallo

2013-2014 Health Professions Education Loan Repayment Program Awardee
Fresno, CA

I am a relatively new oncology Nurse Practitioner at Fresno Regional Community Hospital. The majority of the patients that I care for are medically indigent. Due to environmental exposures (i.e. pesticides) and lack of access to health care, many our patients come to us with a wide variety of late cancer diagnoses, such as lung and colon cancers, lymphoma, etc. The generous grant from HPEF has helped me with my school loan debt, which is a significant financial burden. This grant has helped relieve some of the monthly financial stress related to school loan repayment and I am not forced to get a second job. This in turn benefits my patients because I have more time and energy to devote to them during their cancer journey. Working in oncology can be emotionally draining at times but I absolutely love what I do. This is more than a job for me; it is a calling. I am very grateful for HPEF's support.

Michele Webber

2013-2014 Health Professions Education Loan Repayment Program Awardee
Fresno, CA

I am a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner who serves adults with a severe mental illness in Fresno County from my home in Southern California. As an employee of American Telepsychiatrists, I use telepsychiatry, a form of secure video conferencing, to Turning Point of Central California Clients. Telepsychiatry is currently one of the most effective ways to increase access to psychiatric care for individuals living in underserved areas. My clients easily adjusted to the technology and feel very comfortable with this unique service delivery system. I have learned that being highly flexible is key when providing telepsychiatry services. My clients know that if they have a medication question or have new symptoms, they can also come by on our 'Telepsych Day' and we will fit them into the schedule.

I am a three-time recipient of the scholarship and loan repayment program. Knowing that there was a possibility that my loans would be repaid inspired me to continue my nursing education. I also work for the Orange County Health Care Agency for Correctional Health Services serving the mental health needs of adult inmates. Trained in the Recovery Model, I started my career as Social Worker, specifically serving persons with severe mental illness who had forensic involvement. My specialized expertise led me into opening mental health programs throughout California that are funded by County General Funds and the Mental Health Services Act. I opened and worked in outpatient, assertive community treatment, residential and crisis programs in eight different rural and urban California counties. As I reflect on my 20 year career as a clinician, I can't see myself doing anything else. People can and do recover from mental illness, and I am fortunate to be a part of the process.

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Carrie Kowalski

2013-2014 Health Professions Education Loan Repayment Program Awardee
Venice, CA

I work as a Physician Assistant for the Venice Family Clinic, a non-profit Federally Qualified Health Center, near Venice Beach in Los Angeles. I’ve aspired to work at the clinic since moving to Los Angeles in 2006, as the clinic’s reputation for providing much needed, quality health services to the medically underserved is well known. I am proud to work there. This past March, Venice Family Clinic partnered with a local non-profit called Safe Place for Youth (SPY). SPY is a drop-in center for local homeless youth ages 15 to 26. It is a place where homeless youth can come for a hot meal, new clothes, hygiene supplies, access to case management and mental health services, and now access to medical care. We opened a small, outreach clinic at SPY, and one afternoon a week, I provide Primary Care to these patients. The impact we are able to make from this small, one room clinic is immense. Vaccinations, STI testing, family planning, and treatment of asthma, respiratory infections, and skin infections—the list of basic services we can offer is long! This population, which is often difficult to reach and which lacks access, is able to see me one-on-one for healthcare needs—many of which have not been addressed for many years. Many suffer from substance addiction and mental health problems, and we are able to link them to services to help address their needs. The youth are extremely grateful for our services. The majority of them have suffered extreme trauma in their lifetime, and they know that we care and will provide services in a non-judgmental way. HPEF has made it possible for me to help these youth. I am extremely grateful for the loan repayment opportunity and would not be able to do this work without it.

Kellene Eagen

2013-2014 Steven M. Thompson Physician Corps Loan Repayment Program Awardee
San Francisco, CA

As a Steven M. Thompson Loan Repayment Program recipient, I work as a primary care provider at the San Francisco Department of Public Health's Tom Waddell Urban Health Clinic (TWUHC), which serves homeless and marginally housed adults living in the Tenderloin and surrounding neighborhoods. TWUHC provides integrated primary medical and psychiatric care, HIV care, dental, podiatric care, transgender care, substance abuse counseling and referral to treatment, case management and social work services. The clinic has high rates of patients living with severe and chronic mental illness as well as medical and psychiatric disability.

Primary care in the homeless population is both similar and dissimilar to primary care with other adults. I see patients with all the chronic diseases other adults develop but often times due to poor access and engagement with the health care system, these conditions progress more rapidly and result in worse outcomes. Within the SF DPH, I frequently partner with community agencies such as the city's respite, shelters and intensive case management programs to reach the most medically fragile and vulnerable homeless patients. It is this team approach that has allowed me to be more successful working with this uniquely underserved population. I also champion our clinic's Hepatitis C community-based treatment program recognizing that homeless patients carry a disproportionate burden of the Hepatitis C epidemic yet have difficulty accessing treatment unless provided in the primary care setting. I also serve as Quality Improvement Program Manager at TWUHC which has resulted in expansion of team-based care and panel management at our clinic. The diverse hats I wear and ways in which I can contribute to the care of homeless populations makes my job especially satisfying to me.

I'm particularly thankful to the Health Professions Education Foundation for selecting me as a Steven M. Thompson Loan Repayment recipient. I never regret pursuing a degree in medicine but have to be realistic that it saddled me with a large burden of educational debt. It was not until I was selected by HPEF that I finally was able to feel more confident about my ability to pay off my debt, continue a long career working in my chosen niche of medicine and enjoy myself all the while! I regularly appreciate how lucky I am to have found a place in the world of medicine that gives me such professional and personal satisfaction. It is an honor to be recognized alongside the other dedicated program recipients who all work to improve the health of our most vulnerable Californians.

Jennifer Elizondo

2013-2014 Steven M. Thompson Physician Corps Loan Repayment Program Awardee
Glendale, CA

I am the second child of seven, and the oldest daughter. I grew up in one of the most poverty-ridden, crime-infested Housing Projects of East Los Angeles; a community that embraced violence like a mother would embrace her child. The fear in my parents' eyes and the cries of my community for those children murdered by rival street gangs, have never left me. I grew up in this community, where paucity of education and inadequate health care ran rampant. For years my own parents neglected their health because they had no medical insurance and insufficient monetary funds to afford a visit to the doctor. I grew up where young girls were pregnant by their teens and mothers before they were even women. To change this pattern and educate the community continues to be one of my many aspirations. I have been privileged to return to communities comparable to the one I was raised in, and counsel children and adults on healthy lifestyles and on striving for higher levels of intellect.

I am a strong advocate for the underdog. I believe that every person has a right to a just and dignified life. As a physician, I aim to work with the medically underserved and socio-economically disadvantaged patient population. I have worked in the inner cities and impoverished small towns across the United States and also travel throughout the world including Haiti, Jamaica, Honduras, El Salvador, Brazil, The Philippines, on Christian Medical Missions, where we provide medical care and free medicines to the poorest of the poor. I am deeply grieved by the suffering of so many human beings in this world, especially the impoverished, the weak and the defenseless. The poor choices, the stubborn and sometimes ignorant decisions that patients make are infuriating and heartbreaking. As more horrific stories are revealed, such as a son shot to death, a young girl raped or sexually trafficked, a young man addicted to chemical substances and suffering from severe depression; single parent families trying to make ends meet, homes broken because the father was deported as an "illegal alien", these are only some of the realities of my patients here in our country of the free. Social injustices prevail and financial hardships pour out of their eyes as they confide in me. I become more determined to assist my patients in changing their outlook on life, their view on their self-worth, regaining their self love, self-respect, and their faith in themselves. I am grateful to have the opportunity to serve as a role model to many children, young men and women, and as a comforter to the despaired. I challenge my patients because I expect the best from them. It is not a simple challenge, but it shows that I believe in them. For many, I may be the only one that does.

I am grateful to the HPEF award. It provides me with the financial support that allows me to touch the lives of many people in need. Thank you again for your greatly appreciated assistance. I would not have been able to accomplish so much without your financial support. Thank you.

Angie Cook

2013-2014 Steven M. Thompson Physician Corps Loan Repayment Program Awardee
San Bernardino, CA

After completing residency in Florida, one thing I knew for sure was that I was going to practice medicine in California, a state that embraced me and my family and a state that defines cultural diversity. I work as a pediatrician in San Bernardino seeing newborn patients transition into adulthood. Improving the health of children is gratifying in itself. I have the added bonus of being able to provide care to children growing up in foster homes, homeless, substance abuse and domestic abuse shelters. I can't imagine working anywhere else despite the many challenges of working in an underserved area, including limited access to subspecialists, lack of insurance for undocumented children, and language barriers. This only gives me added motivation to improve my Spanish, and to push myself further in developing as a physician. I feel fortunate every day to have been a recipient of the Steven Thompson Physician Corps Loan Repayment program. Knowing that the burden of my educational debt will be relieved can help me focus solely on providing the best medical care for my patients.

Barbara "Basia" Tcheng

2013-2014 Steven M. Thompson Physician Corps Loan Repayment Program Awardee
Venice, CA

It is an honor to be my patients' pediatrician. I am grateful to be working at Venice Family Clinic, a federally qualified health center, where the families I work with are able to receive the services, treatments, and referrals that they need. One mother of a 20 month old said to me "Now that she has the glasses she need, she's not afraid to touch things, like sand, or talk to people anymore. I think it's because she can see. All the therapies are also making a big difference, and she is talking more."

Another family told me, "I know his 15 year-old brother was supposed to have an appointment with you too. You know that he's been healthy with his weight for a while now. But he told me to tell you - he is doing really well in school after you had been talking to him about it. I'm so proud of him."

I also take my responsibility of teaching both medical students and pediatric residents very seriously. Not only are they learning clinical skills, but they are also experiencing the fulfillment that comes from working with the underserved population, and the challenges that our patients still face in our country's healthcare system.

Always looking to improve our services, we are currently building a partnership with a local WIC agency to provide more intensive lactation services for our patients. Thanks to the Health Professions Education Foundation award, I will be a part of Venice Family Clinic as it continues to serve patients in new ways. I look forward to many more years more at the clinic. Thank you for this great opportunity!

Nicholas Whitley

2013-2014 Steven M. Thompson Physician Corps Loan Repayment Program Awardee
Chula Vista, CA

My name is Nicholas Ryan Whitley. I am a Family Physician at Chula Vista Medical Plaza in Chula Vista, California. At this clinic close to the border of San Diego and Tijuana, we help to take care and treat patients in this underserved area that are mostly Mexican-American. It is a FQHC community clinic.

Being a primary care physician in an underserved population at a FQHC community clinic can be very challenging. The patients can often be challenging as they present late to care or with advanced disease processes because of their lack of insurance or because they did not realize they qualify for insurance until the disease is progressed. Our patients are also frequently affected by life hardships that are a reflection of their socioeconomic struggles. The hours are often long with high patient loads and voluminous paperwork. The salaries are often lower than going to a private clinic or to a corporate clinic with less benefits and more work loads. Most physicians have high loan payments. In particular, my loan payment is higher than most home mortgages. With such a high loan payment it can be tempting to search for a higher compensation at a private clinic or a corporate clinic.

Given the difficulties of working in this environment with such high loan repayments, the Health Professions Education Foundation and the Steven M. Thompson Loan Repayment Program have helped alleviate the financial struggles of working in a FQHC Community Clinic with the generous award they have gifted me to help repay my loans. This helps me to offset such high interest rates and high loan repayment rates that I accumulated to pay for medical school.

Of course, I love working with this population of patients despite the inherent difficulties. The patients are very thankful and grateful. I enjoy knowing that I can continue to help them live a more enjoyable, comfortable, and productive life with my efforts to help them. This helps bring me joy and allows me to feel useful to the community. I truly love working with this community and this population.

I am extremely grateful and thankful to the Health Professions Education Foundation and the California Endowment for the help they have given me in the form of the Steven M. Thompson Loan Repayment Program that helps me to stay in the Chula Vista community.

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Julie Jaffray

2013-2014 Steven M. Thompson Physician Corps Loan Repayment Program Awardee
Los Angeles, CA

I am currently working at Children's Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) as a pediatric hematologist/oncologist. We are a nonprofit hospital that treats an underserved population of children, and we are also the first and largest pediatric hospital in Southern California. In saying that, a large proportion of the patients I treat are living below the poverty level and are first generation immigrants. This community is similar to where I grew up in Northern California, where in one city there are large discrepancies between socioeconomic levels of families.

Being a physician is something I have wanted to be since I was a young girl -- mostly due to being unable to think of a more important or fulfilling career. I felt that if one did not have their health, then the rest of life's circumstances were not as important, and I wanted to be a part of that. I used to imagine being a doctor in a moveable trailer giving free vaccines to children in underserved neighborhoods and being a physician in an area where people could not afford health care. Yet, when I undertook my pediatric residency at the University of Massachusetts, my passion turned to a more specialized field, pediatric hematology and oncology. I realized my dream of working in a temporary, mobile clinic would not be feasible for a pediatric hematologist/oncologist. I therefore decided the next best way I could help those in need was to find an excellent hospital that cared for these children, and that is how I came to CHLA.

The past year and a half working at CHLA has been both difficult and amazing. I work mainly as a hematologist who cares for children with blood clots or bleeding disorders, like hemophilia. Through a grant program, we are able to provide even more resources than typical for patients with hemophilia, such as transportation to appointments, money for lifesaving medical alert bracelets and educational retreats for the families. This grant has also allowed us to add to our team of clinicians by providing nursing care, physical therapy, social work as well as psychology to not only help these children with their bleeding issues, but also their home and school issues. Many of these families are illiterate and do not understand how to navigate our education system, yet our center can help them overcome these barriers. I feel very lucky that my team can help provide the extra care for these families that they may not have gotten elsewhere.

Being awarded the Stephen M. Thompson award has greatly impacted my life. Working in this community, as a pediatrician for a nonprofit hospital, translates to a lower salary than if I had chosen a different career path. This award has helped me to be able to afford to live in Los Angeles while continuing to do the work that I am passionate about. The award also validates the importance of the work that we all provide to this community and that it is truly worth continuing.

This page was last updated on Tuesday, April 17, 2018.

About Us

The Health Professions Education Foundation (HPEF) is a state non-profit established in 1987.

HPEF has awarded more than 14,721 scholarships and loan repayments totaling more than $169.7 million to California health professionals serving in all 58 counties in areas of unmet need.

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