Drs. Catherine Cone and Nathalie Bergeron Awarded $3.25 Million HRSA Grant

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant will fund the Health Careers Opportunity Program (HCOP) to help economically, and educationally underserved students overcome common barriers to a healthcare career.

September 19, 2023
Drs. Cone and Bergeron
(Left to right) Drs. Cone and Bergeron

Dr. Catherine Cone, Associate Dean of Assessment, College of Pharmacy, and Dr. Nathalie Bergeron, Associate Dean of Research, College of Osteopathic Medicine, were awarded a 5-year HRSA grant for their project titled Engaging Students from Underserved North Bay Counties for Success in Health Professions Careers – Touro University California’s (TUC) HCOP Academy!

“The idea is that we incentivize the students with extra support that we provide in the form of mentoring, coursework, and study skills related to college life, so that they feel confident in pursuing a healthcare career,” says Dr. Nathalie Bergeron.

The program is a multifaceted initiative designed to combat shortages of healthcare professionals, with a particular focus on underserved, historically low income, and underrepresented communities to help address a projected deficit of 4,700 primary care providers in California by 2025. North Bay communities, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Solano, Sonoma, and Yolo Counties already experience significant shortages in health professionals. The counties are also some of the nation's most racially and ethnically diverse, and experience moderate to high levels of vulnerability and health disparities.

To address these issues, the programs establish educational pipelines that start as early as high school and progress through undergraduate and graduate levels, and provide vital recruitment efforts and mentorship opportunities, connecting students with professionals already established in the primary healthcare field.

To prepare students, HCOP offers summer programs and academies that offer practical experience, exposure to healthcare careers, and academic support. Recognizing the financial barriers faced by disadvantaged students, HCOP provides financial incentives like stipends, scholarships, and grants to help alleviate the financial burden of pursuing healthcare education. The students will also have an opportunity to act as mentors to more junior students in an ambassador platform, encouraging cooperation between participants.

A big impact of having underrepresented minorities in healthcare programs, aside from increasing diversity and creating role models, is because students from these populations often go back and serve the communities that they come from, an important component of advancing health outcomes.

Emphasizing community service and volunteer work, HCOP programs encourage participants to give back to their communities through healthcare-related activities. HCOP programs are diverse and tailored to the specific needs of their target populations and communities. They play a critical role in addressing healthcare workforce shortages and promoting diversity and equity in the healthcare field.

“If students complete the summer program at the community college, and they decide not to go into medicine or pharmacy, they still have these skills that will help them be successful, no matter where they go,” says Dr. Catherine Cone. “It's the same with the high school students, regardless of whether they come to us or not, they are getting skills that can help them be successful on their academic journey.”

Ultimately, HCOP seeks to empower students who are more inclined to practice in underserved communities, thereby addressing healthcare disparities and improving access to quality care, particularly in areas facing workforce shortages.