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Transforming Public Health

Forging a Path to Higher Education

When Rubi Gomez’s parents came to the United States, they dedicated their efforts to the care of Gomez and her two older brothers and younger sister, working multiple jobs and multiple hours to provide for the family. Her brothers completed their undergraduate degrees but opted not to pursue graduate school, leaving Gomez to forge her own path to a postgraduate education, which she understood was going to come at a large financial cost.

“I was so worried about paying for it and unsure about how the process worked,” said Gomez. “I’m a first-generation Latina and a first-generation college student. For us, in my family, just the fact that we graduated from college is such an accomplishment. It’s kind of unheard of actually.”

Gomez has held a lifelong interest in health care. From a young age, she was driven by a desire to provide care and forge connections. Her commitment to caring and connecting has remained steadfast as she advanced in age, ultimately leading her to the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at UC San Diego.

Biostatistics students work collaboratively in a journal club course.

Through her unwavering dedication and hard work, Gomez earned the distinction of being selected for the McNair Scholar Program, a federal TRIO program that operates at 151 institutions throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, with administration, funding and implementation, overseen by the U.S. Department of Education. The McNair Scholar Program is designed to equip undergraduate students for doctoral studies by involving them in research and other scholarly endeavors. This program not only enhances students’ performance at their current academic level but also prepares them for graduate school while facilitating connections between students and research-oriented faculty members.

“The Mcnair Scholar Program helped me with the application process,” Gomez said. “They walked me through the process step-by-step and helped advise me on how best to find a program that was right for me, which saved me time and effort. Most importantly, they allowed me to connect with my amazing mentors who helped me and encouraged me through the entire application process.”

Opportunities to Support Student Success

Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences John M. Carethers, M.D.

Currently, the United States is experiencing a shortage of health care professionals, making health sciences scholarships more essential than ever. The average cost of four years of medical or pharmacy school totals $322,000 and the average debt for a four-year medical education is $170,000. The National Center for Education Statistics data indicate that public health master’s students have a median debt load of $52,263.

To address the need for scholarships to help make health education accessible to individuals from all backgrounds, Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences John M. Carethers, M.D., announced a commitment of $12 million from Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla to establish the Health Sciences Scholarship Challenge at UC San Diego.

Together, Khosla and Carethers are challenging alumni, friends and supporters to raise an additional $12 million over the next four years, effectively doubling the impact for our students at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health.

“We are thrilled to launch the Health Sciences Scholarship Challenge,” said Carethers. “Scholarships help make dreams a reality for our student recipients. As our scholars each move forward in their medical careers, the number of lives they serve and care for is exponential. Our scholars will be the faces of the future of health care.”

“Scholarships help make dreams a reality for our student recipients. As our scholars each move forward in their medical careers, the number of lives they serve and care for is exponential.”

– Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences John M. Carethers

Education with a Purpose

The Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees as well as a general preventive medicine residency program, which empower aspiring public health professionals to nurture their passion, contribute to meaningful change and evolve into leaders who foster positive health outcomes for communities at local, national and global levels.

Established in 2019, the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health has graduated more than 1,500 students, approximately half of whom have graduated since the school’s founding. In the 2022-2023 academic year alone, more than 200 students successfully completed the bachelor’s program.

“Many classes at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health are intertwined with the medical school,” Gomez said. “Because of that, academic topics are put into real terms with real people who have real problems and are looking for real solutions.”

Gomez benefitted from scholarships and would not be able to help the people she holds dear or pursue her dreams of being a public health, graduate level professional without financial support and guidance.

“Public health is all around us; it’s an essential component of life that we deal with on a daily basis,” said Gomez. “I love being a part of that. I love being part of the community that’s teaching basic knowledge that, unfortunately, not everyone has.”

Gomez graduated in 2023 with a Bachelor of Science in Public Health with a concentration in Community Health Sciences. She is a U.S. Department of Education TRIO Program McNair Scholar; former undergraduate research intern with the Chicas Fuertes research lab under Britta Larsen, Ph.D.; former research assistant for Project 2VIDA! under Argentina Servin, M.D., M.P.H.; and after graduation hopes to work with San Ysidro Health, a non-profit organization committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities they serve with access for all.

Student scholarships are essential to making an education in health care accessible, whether students are pursuing a degree in medicine, pharmacy or public health. Generous contributions can directly impact students by providing scholarships, facilitating research opportunities and enhancing the overall educational experience. They are critical to our ability to attract and retain a student community that is talented, empathetic, forward-thinking and representative of California’s diversity. To support the Health Sciences Scholarship Challenge, give online.

Rubi Gomez next to her capstone poster at a poster presentation. Photo credit Rubi Gomez