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They changed careers to feed their souls

Kaiser Permanente recognizes 23 Northern California employee graduates of the Mental Health Scholars Academy. Pictured, Carolina Diaz, left, and Eboni Jackson at a recent graduation ceremony.

Eboni Jackson of Fairfield, California was born to be a mental health therapist.

“I’ve always been the go-to person in my family and my circle for people who struggle,” said Jackson. “I’m that person.”

One day soon, the 41-year-old mother of 5 will begin the transition from her job as a Kaiser Permanente clinical technology operations manager to a mental health therapist in training.

She recently received her master’s degree in mental health from the University of Massachusetts Global. She was one of 23 employee graduates who celebrated at a ceremony last month.

A dream realized

Her dream to be a therapist is being realized, in part, by Kaiser Permanente’s Mental Health Scholars Academy. The program paid 75% of the degree that would have cost her about $40,000 if she had paid for it on her own.

“There are so many people out there who need mental health support but don’t know how to ask for it. I want to normalize that,” said a smiling Jackson as she joined a handful of other recent Kaiser Permanente employees celebrating the completion of their degrees.

The scholarship program for employees started in 2020. To date, 94 California employees have received their master’s degrees through the program. Another 210 are in the process.

In addition to paying most of the tuition, the program arranges for graduates to get 300 to 500 hours of supervised clinical training at the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Mental Health Training Program Counseling Center.

Growing a diverse workforce

The program was launched to meet an exploding demand for mental health care and to create a more diverse workforce so that those giving care reflect the population seeking care. To date, 75% of those who have entered the program are people of color, and 40% are bilingual.

“One of the things we talk about in our program is that we stand strongly for diversity and equity,” said Dan Gizzo, PhD, California director of the Mental Health Scholars Program, during comments at the recent graduation event.

People are more inclined to seek help if there are therapists available with a shared culture or background, he explained.

“Our job is not to just help people get degrees but to open doors and break down barriers and help people get the care they need,” he added.

Demand for mental health therapists nationwide rose by about 40% since the pandemic started, so new grads will have no shortage of people to help, Gizzo said.

“There is no better time to enter the mental health field,” he told them.

Seeking more fulfilling career

With the help of the program, Carolina Diaz, 32, of Fresno, got her master’s degree from Alliant International University in June of last year and also participated in the recent ceremony. She had been working as a Kaiser Permanente financial analyst for 6 years.

Today, she is helping Kaiser Permanente members in drug and alcohol recovery as an associate post-master’s fellow. Before she got her degree and started as a mental health practitioner, she was ready for a change. Her career as a financial analyst felt uninspiring.

“I wanted to do something meaningful to me, and I found that this really is my calling,” said Diaz. “I saw a lot of friends and family suffer through different mental health issues, and I felt helpless. But I really wanted to help.”

Today, she is inspired by people in recovery who have the courage to change their lives.

“I learn so much from them,” said Diaz. “I love working with them. People have gone through the most terrible things, and they are so honest about their experiences and wanting to better themselves against all odds. Being a part of their journey is a true honor and is the kind of work that feeds my soul.”

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Congratulations to all of the graduates.!!!
    Thank you for stepping up and filling some of those desperately needed positions. There are so many people slipping through the cracks because we don’t have enough therapists to help them. I wish Kaiser would offer this program in all KP regions. I know it would be extremely successful in the NW.
    I would sign up in a heartbeat.!

  2. Although I haven’t been in need of this service myself, I have had two friends in the past who have been in counseling at Kaiser, and they have appreciated the help they received. One of my friends who has since moved to the LA area was concerned three years ago that she was having a hard time getting an appointment, which I believe was due to a shortage of caregivers. This program should help needy people to get in sooner. Congratulations to these two ladies!

  3. CONGRATULATIONS Eboni Jackson! So proud of your accomplishments, the mental health community is blessed to have you.

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