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Grant Makes PA Program More Affordable for Four Bethel Students

(Left to right) PA students Saira Haq GS’18, Tammy Estrem GS’18, Drew Gernand ’08 GS’18, and Katie Peterson GS’18 each received a $1,250 spring 2017 scholarship from the CVS Health Foundation.

Assistant Professor Lisa Naser got to break the news to Physician Assistant (PA) student Saira Haq GS’18 that she had been selected to receive a $1,250 scholarship. It happened on the day Haq says she “needed it the most.”

Recent family matters had led to unexpected expenses for the first-year student, and she wasn’t sure how she would manage the burden. News of the gift gave Haq security and confidence that she could continue her studies.

When Naser and colleague Greg Ekbom, director of clinical education, applied in November 2016 to receive a grant from the CVS Health Foundation for Bethel’s M.S. in Physician Assistant program, they did so with students like Haq in mind. The grant is part of the CVS Health Foundation Advance Practice Nurse and Physician Scholarship program—aimed at supporting promising healthcare students in an effort to increase the number of qualified professionals in the field. But the opportunity came with a stipulation: awarded institutions must use the funds to grant scholarships to students with good academic standing who also have a “solid history of volunteerism.”

Naser knew the requirement wouldn’t be difficult to fulfil. Bethel’s PA program requires applicants to complete 250 hours of medical service work, and many do so through service-based work. “The standout thing about us is our faith” says Nasser. “And the nature of our students…we just see many of [them] being very service-oriented.”

When writing her portion of the application, Naser focused on this altruistic history. CVS Health responded by awarding Bethel the maximum amount of their $1,000–$5,000 funding range. Because an additional grant rule stated at least 25 percent of scholarship funds must go to a bilingual student, Naser and colleagues decided to split the award four ways. They selected Haq (who is fluent in English, Bengali, and Hindi with an understanding of the Pakistani language Urdu), Tammy Estrem GS’18, Drew Gernand '08 GS’18, and Katie Peterson GS’18 to receive the scholarship toward their spring 2017 tuition. All four were anonymously selected from a pool of essay applications speaking to students’ interest in the scholarship and history of working with underserved populations.

For Haq, writing about her volunteerism wasn’t about describing a one-time outreach experience—it was about putting her life’s passion into words. From 2006 until 2012, Haq worked as a physician at a private hospital near Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. During that time, she was allowed the unique opportunity to open a one-day-a-week free clinic for workers at a textile factory in the countryside—about 35 miles away. “In a developing country, the minimum [wage] is way below the poverty line. They couldn’t afford healthcare, and sometimes they couldn’t even afford clean water,” says Haq. “It meant so much to me to be a part of their healing process.”

As the needs of the free clinic grew, Haq recruited additional volunteers from her work. She ran the clinic—serving weekly and biweekly—for almost five years, before her marriage to a Minnesotan man led her to move. When Haq learned that earning a master’s would be necessary for her to continue doing her work in the U.S., Bethel’s program was the clear choice. “It was very warm, and personal, and that’s what I was looking for in a program,” she says. “I felt any academic program would provide great education, but Bethel stood out because—along with great education—it’s more inclined to train good human beings…which is important in my line of work.”

Since becoming part of Bethel’s program, Haq has discovered that her classmates share a sense of dedication and commitment to making a difference, brought to light by the countless stories submitted to PA faculty in consideration for the CVS Health Foundation scholarship. Though much of this volunteer work gets put on hold while students focus on their rigorous graduate school coursework, for Haq, receiving the scholarship has been a reminder of the opportunities she will have to impact lives through her line of work and by giving back to her alma mater. “When I graduate, I would like to come back as an instructor at Bethel sometime, and I would also like to give back to the students by providing scholarships,” she says.

Because the CVS Health Foundation scholarship program was new this year, it’s unclear whether the grant funds will be renewable for Bethel’s PA program going forward, but representatives at CVS have hopes that it will be. For now, Naser says she’s just happy faculty were able to help ease four students’ financial burden and acknowledge their incredible work—work they’ve done, “not to achieve honor, but that they just…did.”

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