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Mental Health Scholars Academy graduates first class

The program supporting and growing future behavioral health professionals has just launched its first group of newly degreed therapists dedicated to helping others. Pictured, left to right, graduates Leiza Santos, Janelle Hernandez, and Lisa Goettsch.

Leiza Santos knew she was taking on a lot by enrolling in Kaiser Permanente’s Mental Health Scholars Academy (MHSA) during the pandemic while working her administrative job at the organization.

A mother of 2 young children, Santos would need all of her energy and multi-tasking abilities to finish the 3-year program that supports the training of new mental health professionals committed to working for Kaiser Permanente in California. But with a bachelor’s degree already in psychology, she was well-positioned to become a therapist, which she calls “a passion.”

Half-way through her program, Santos added to her family. “With the support from my school and Kaiser Permanente, I was able to continue without disrupting my graduation timeline,” she said of juggling a newborn.

Santos credits many for her accomplishment, including the program for its 75% tuition assistance, enthusiastic co-workers, and managers flexible with her work schedule.

“I would encourage anyone who qualifies to apply and pursue this amazing path to further a career in mental health,” Santos said. “I would have never thought of challenging myself this much at this point in my life, but it was well worth it and I’m excited for the journey ahead.”

Building the pipeline

The statewide program launched in 2019 to create a career pipeline for new mental health professionals and increase diversity and representation in the mental health workforce. Santos and classmates including Janelle Hernandez are the Northern California MHSA’s first graduates.

Both earned their master’s degrees in counseling psychology-concentration in marriage and family therapy from the University of San Francisco.

“As soon as I found out information about the MHSA program, I jumped on the opportunity to pursue my dream to become a therapist,” said Hernandez, a Kaiser Permanente recreational therapist for 6 years who is motivated to help the Latinx population.

“The program brings additional diversity into California’s mental health workforce with over 75% of participants identifying as people of color and many bilingual,” said Lauren Sevey, MHSA’s lead consultant.

Over the past 3 years, each graduate has clocked between 300 and 500 hours of clinical training at practicums within the organization in Northern California. The next step is for the post master’s requirement of 3,000 supervised hours for licensure — yet another hurdle that is being smoothed with help from Kaiser Permanente.

Streamlining the process

“We are partnering with Talent Acquisition to streamline the process of connecting MHSA graduates with open associate positions and developing new supports to help them with resume and interview preparation, as well as navigating the Kaiser Permanente behavioral health hiring process,” added Dan Gizzo, PhD, a clinical psychologist and the program’s director.

MHSA participants Lisa Goettsch graduated in February with her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Alliant International University. She worked a decade as a registered dental assistant at Kaiser Permanente, where she supported a maxillofacial pain physician in providing care to patients suffering from chronic facial pain.

“Through this work, I found those coping with chronic pain may also be working through anxiety and other mental health challenges,” she said. “I became eager to learn at a higher level how to best support those with their mental health.”

With her education completed, Goettsch can see her new career in sight. Of the MHSA, she said, “Every person in my cohort is so glad they decided to participate in the program.”

Are you a Kaiser Permanente employee in California interested in applying to the MHSA? Applications open on September 7. Learn more.


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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. This is such a phenomenal accomplishment for the three of you! And Kaiser Permanente has done it again! KP continues to bring innovation in so many ways, including bridging the gap between the increasing volume of mental health patients and the availability and accessibility (or lack thereof) of much-needed behavioral health professionals! I hope to see more MSHA graduates in the near future! Thank you in advance, Leiza, Janelle, and Lisa, for taking care of our members now and in the future! We appreciate you and your contributions to wellness.

  2. Congratulations to all!! I hope you have a long and fulfilling career in mental health. It’s wonderful to see new folks coming in as I approach retirement this year, after 41 years in the field.

  3. So encouraging to see bright new stars who will be shining their light for so many others. Thank you for dedicating yourselves to this essential cause.

  4. Excellent job, Leiza, and to your cohort pictured with you. You are going to be a great therapist and thank you for all your support with my time in the program!

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