Each year, the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation awards three $10,000 scholarships to minority students pursuing careers in health care. The 2019 BlueCross Power of We scholars have very different reasons for entering the health care field, but they have one big thing in common: they’re dedicated to turning their dreams into reality. Here are their stories.
Sophomore nursing major, University of Tennessee – Chattanooga
When Chyna Germany was interning at Meharry Medical College, she expected to learn a lot about the human body. What she didn’t expect was to learn so much about herself.
“I have women in my family who’ve been plagued by reproductive issues, including me, and I was surprised to run into so many women who knew very little about their own health,” says Chyna. “It was disheartening to hear that these women didn’t know what was going on in their own bodies and that they might have never known had they not come in for treatment for a specific issue. I want to help inform women so we can all get help when we need it.”
“I want to help women understand what’s happening in their bodies.”
Chyna knew she wanted to be in health care since ninth grade. After discovering her scientific sensibility in health class, she shadowed a pediatrician and completed a hospital internship. By her junior year, she’d decided she wanted to be a doctor, but the more time she spent with patients, the more her path widened.
“When I got to follow nurses, I saw that they get to spend a lot more time with patients, and I liked that one-on-one dynamic,” she says. “Now, after doing clinicals, I see the impact we can make. I remember one patient saying to me, ‘You are the first person to sit and talk with me.’ Another told me, ‘I hated being in this hospital, but the last few days with you checking in on me, I actually wanted to be here and try to get well.’ Hospitals are busy, and to be a nurse, you have to have a different mindset. You have to be able to understand how someone else feels.”
As Chyna starts her junior year of nursing school this fall, she feels good about her chances of achieving her long-term goal: becoming a nurse practitioner in obstetrics and gynecology. One day, she may even open her own practice. Short-term, she’s relieved that the BlueCross Power of We scholarship can help ease her family’s burden.
“My mom is a teacher, and she’s trying to go back to school to get her doctorate,” Chyna says. “I think her drive is why I am the way I am. Watching her go back to school as a single mom, I feel like I can do anything. Now that I have this scholarship, we don’t have to worry about where my next tuition check is coming from, or about asking our family to help out. I can just focus on school. I know that in the end, all this hard work is definitely going to be worth it. That’s a good feeling.”
Junior nursing major, Baptist College of Health Sciences, Memphis
When Kelsey Hulsey applied to nursing school, she had known what she wanted to do for a long time. She was very close to her grandmother, Leonia, who suffered a stroke when Kelsey was 19. The stroke paralyzed Leonia and left her unable to speak, so she had to go to a nursing home.
“Seeing how the nurses interacted with her was eye-opening,” says Kelsey. “We had some good nurses and some bad ones, and you could see it all over my grandmother’s face when she wasn’t being treated well, but she couldn’t speak. Being there to help her through it, to keep her in good spirits, showed me how important bedside manner is.”
Recently Kelsey visited a place that was brimming with that: Paige Robbins Adult Day Care Center in Collierville, TN. She wishes her grandmother had been able to spend her final years in a place like that.
“I had no idea adult day care was a thing!” she says. “But for people who need assistance with the activities of daily living, or those who suffer from memory loss and can’t live alone, it gives them a purpose. I’d love to eventually build up something like that in Jackson because I don’t believe we have one. I love the elderly, so pouring the love they gave us back into them feels like the right thing to do.”
“I want to give seniors the attention my grandmother didn’t always get after her stroke.”
Achieving dreams that big, of course, takes time. This fall, Kelsey will be a senior, and the loans she’s been relying on as she works her way through school will run out. That’s why, she says, being named a BlueCross Power of We scholar at this particular moment has been so fortuitous.
“This scholarship is such a blessing because now I know I can pay my tuition and graduate in April,” she says. “I’m so glad I never gave up because this was actually my second time applying for the scholarship, too. And you know what? It came right on time.”
Junior nursing major, East Tennessee State University (ETSU), Johnson City
If there’s such a thing as an early bloomer, Alexus Smith is one. She graduated high school at age 16 after doubling up in math freshman year. That fall she enrolled at ETSU, where she become a resident advisor and participated in a national student exchange program that allowed her to spend a year living in California. Throughout these jam-packed years, she knew what she was passionate about — she’d learned that early, too.
“My grandmother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma when I was 2 years old, so most of my life I was in and out of hospitals,” says Alexus. “When I was 5, I spent the entire summer in hospitals and doctors’ offices with her, and the nurses got so used to me that they’d cling to me and hug me. They even let me do small things in the office like assess her temperature and blood pressure. I think the most amazing procedure I experienced as a child was my grandmother’s bone marrow transplant. I fell in love with nursing then and there.”
During her freshman year of high school, Alexus’s passion for a certain field crystalized when she participated in IMPACT, the Infant Mortality Public Awareness Campaign for Tennessee.
“I learned about the serious health disparities there are for minorities — especially here in Tennessee — when it comes to maternal and infant mortality,” she says. “I knew that was what I wanted to do, so I worked with IMPACT until I graduated. My plan now is to get my masters so I can become a nurse practitioner, get certified in midwifery and then become an international board-certified lactation consultant. Once I get all those things together, I’d love to open birthing centers in low income areas, especially here in my hometown of Chattanooga.”
If it surprises you that Alexus dreams big, you haven’t been paying attention. At age 23, the mother of 2-year-old Kalil Tairese doesn’t let much stand in her way. And now that she has some needed stability through the BlueCross Power of We scholarship, she doesn’t have to.
“I want to show my son that no matter what this world may tell him that he can’t achieve as a black man, he can do anything he puts his mind to — just like his mommy.”
“Between tuition and daycare and trying to find assistance during clinical hours, this scholarship is an absolute blessing,” she says. “Being able to put all of my energy into school and my fiancé and my son gives me peace of mind, and I know that will make me a better nurse. Most of all, this scholarship allows me to show my son that, no matter what this world may tell him that he can’t achieve as a black man, he can do anything he puts his mind to.”
Studies suggest minority populations remain underrepresented in medical fields — and face disparities in health outcomes. But a more diverse and inclusive health care workforce can help reduce those disparities. BlueCross established the Power of We scholarship program in 2012 to help address those needs and bring better health for all Tennesseans. Each year, three recipients are recognized for outstanding achievements in academics and community service.