With a master’s degree in health administration, Kaiser Permanente employee Jennifer Rodriguez has facilitated health education programs in Spanish and worked as a receptionist in a mental health department call center.
Today she is the Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity project manager in Downey, California.
But Rodriguez is not slowing down now. She has a new goal: to complete her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy at Alliant International University by spring 2023.
“As a Latina veteran, I have something valuable that I can bring to our mental health departments,” said Rodriguez. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to go into a field that I’ve always wanted to work in on behalf of our organization.”
Rodriguez is pursuing her degree thanks to the Kaiser Permanente Mental Health Scholars Academy, or MHSA, an initiative that supports the training of new mental health professionals committed to working for Kaiser Permanente in California.
Starting Sept. 8, the MHSA will accept employees’ applications for its fall 2022 master’s and doctorate programs.
Committed to culturally responsive care
The MHSA’s goal is to create a career pipeline for new mental health professionals and increase diversity and representation in the mental health workforce. By encouraging bilingual and diverse applicants, Kaiser Permanente is addressing gaps in linguistic, ethnic, and minority representation.
Like Rodriguez, Kia Yang is bringing her passion for service and her personal experience to the mental health field.
Yang is a patient relations coordinator at the Kaiser Permanente Sacramento Medical Center starting work on her master’s degree in social work at Brandman University through the MHSA this fall. Born in a refugee camp in Thailand, Yang has family members who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. She has seen firsthand the impact of silence as a response to trauma.
Both she and Rodriguez have been shaped by cultures that will make them more in tune with patients in the future. For example, Yang noticed that, “In the Hmong community, as with many Asian communities, there is little to no trust in health care amongst the elderly. They believe they are being probed for research only and often refuse to seek adequate medical care in a timely manner. I want to help close the gap by raising awareness and building trust.”
Understanding ‘real life struggles’
“The MHSA benefits from the wealth of experience our employees already have and want to develop to serve our patients,” explained Dan Gizzo, PhD, a clinical psychologist and the program’s director. “We partner with 8 academic programs throughout California that offer degree programs for working professionals. Employees accepted as MHSA candidates who achieve admission at the participating schools are eligible for 75% tuition assistance.”
“It’s incredible that the MHSA is allowing us to keep our jobs and go to school at the same time,” said Leanne Jones, a director for Consulting Services Health Plan Quality at the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy at Alliant International University.
“Now that I am in my late thirties, it felt impossible for me to quit my job or go part time to go back to school,” Jones said. “MHSA has made it possible for me to do both.”
Jones grew up in a single-parent household in a community where she says there was “not a lot of upward mobility.”
“I want to give back and work with underserved communities that are struggling to meet basic life needs and are under a lot of daily stress,” she said. “I am also a lesbian and have had to deal with internalized and externalized homophobia along the way. I think all of these experiences will help me to relate to the real-life struggles people face every day.”