Current Student Earns Inaugural Award

Rocio Estrada, Who Has Worked Several Years in Health Care, Seeks Joint Physician Assistant, Public Health Degree

August 28, 2023
A photo shows Rocio Estrada, who has earned the inaugural Lt. Ruth Cortes PA-C Memorial Scholarship.
Rocio Estrada has earned the inaugural Lt. Ruth Cortes PA-C Memorial Scholarship.

Rocio Estrada knows what it's like to live in an under-resourced community and as such, wants to help make life better for others.

A child of immigrants from El Salvador and raised in Fresno, she acknowledges that her childhood gave her "a sense of gratitude for all that I have and drives me to give back to those living in poorer circumstances."

Estrada is doing that in part through her educational endeavors.

She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Science and a minor in Chemistry in 2017 from California State University, Fresno, and entered the Joint MSPAS/MPH program in Fall 2021 at Touro University California.

Estrada spent the time between her undergraduate and graduate programs working -- with some overlap on both ends -- as a Certified Nurse Assistant, a Patient Care Technician and as a Lab Technician at various health care agencies and medical facilities in the Central San Joaquin Valley.

She serves as a peer tutor and as a peer wellness educator and suicide prevention trainer at Touro University California. She has volunteered at the university's Student-Run Free Clinic, and was the diversity chair of the Physician Assistant Club on campus.

While at Touro, she began volunteering in community service programs such as Touro’s Street Medicine Club.

The Value of Listening

"I’ve learned the value of listening," Estrada says. "As health care professionals, the greatest gift we can offer people struggling in any aspect of life is an ear to listen.

"While seeing patients struggling with homelessness, I learned that sometimes all they needed was to be heard, and maybe something for their hypertension," Estrada says. "I hope to continue giving back and would one day like to do more for homeless communities."

Graduates of the PA program are supporting Estrada through a new scholarship that honors the life of one of their own: The Lt. Ruth Cortes PA-C Memorial Scholarship.

Estrada says she is humbled by her selection as the inaugural scholarship recipient.

"Receiving the Ruth Cortes Memorial Scholarship is a great honor," Estrada says.

"The establishment of this award is very impactful for many reasons," Estrada says. "For me, it represents a step closer to creating greater access to health care for minorities, by supporting students who come from under-represented and difficult backgrounds.

"Thanks to her alumni class, Lieutenant Cortes' memory will continue to inspire perseverance in future generations of PAs to come," Estrada says.

The scholarship is awarded to a student who demonstrates exceptional perseverance and dedication to becoming a PA.

Focus of Scholarship

Those applying to the scholarship should identify as a military affiliate (veteran, active duty, or child of military personnel), LatinX, and/or demonstrate grit.

Cortes, who was serving on active duty in the U.S. Navy as a PA, was a Joint MSPAS/MPH Class of 2012 alumna who was killed while off-duty in 2019 in Southern California.

Dr. Joy Moverley, MSPAS/MPH Class of 2012 and program director for the Joint MSPAS/MPH program at Touro University California, says Cortes' caring spirit and determination are remembered by her classmates and friends.

"Ruth was known for her mental toughness and her heart of gold," Moverley says. "While in PA school, she actually worked as a radiology technician to help her aging father."

"She was a regular volunteer for the soup kitchen while in PA school," Moverley says. "She really lived the mission of the Joint MSPAS/MPH program in her service to our community and country throughout her PA journey."

The scholarship was established shortly after the Joint MSPAS/MPH Class of 2012's 10-year reunion in October 2022 at Touro. Money to fund the scholarship came from Cortes' classmates. Estrada is the scholarship's first recipient.

Moverley says Estrada, like Cortes, identifies as a Latina and has demonstrated personal grit in her PA school journey.

"The scholarship committee chose Rocio because they thought she best represented Ruth," Moverley says. "Rocio is going to make an impact on her community when she graduates and shares a commitment to improving health care access just like Ruth."

She also received Touro University's 2023 Leela Raja Outstanding Student Leader Award.

Anyone may contribute to the tax-deductible scholarship fund for the Joint MSPAS/MPH program. To do so, visit