Xavier Physician Assistant Program Student Receives Scholarship from HRSA

Samuel Ramirez receives NHSC scholarship

Samuel Ramirez (‘23), a first-year student in Xavier’s Physician Assistant program, was recently selected as a National Health Service Corps (NHSC) scholarship recipient. In return for the scholarship award, scholars commit to providing primary care health services to underserved communities. The program is administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Hailing from St. Louis, Missouri, Ramirez is considered a nontraditional student. After graduating from Washington University in 1988 with a double degree in Spanish and biology, he later earned his Master of Public Health from Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

Ramirez worked in public health for over two decades around the country. Before settling in New Orleans, he previously held positions in Atlanta, Georgia, Waukegan, Illinois, and Honolulu, Hawaii. His in-laws in Louisiana were badly affected by the flooding from Hurricane Katrina, so Ramirez, his wife and his son moved to New Orleans in 2006 to assist them. Though Ramirez and his family had only planned on staying in the Crescent City for a few years, they now consider it home. During his time in Louisiana, he has worked for various organizations and entities, including the Louisiana Department of Health.

Despite his many years in public health, Ramirez still felt that something was lacking in his life.

“I’ve always wanted to be of service,” said Ramirez. “While working in public health on a programmatic level, I felt like I was doing that but missing that one-on-one connection.”

He wanted to be more “present” in his profession but knew he did not want to become a physician. It was while he worked as a Medical Assistant for Bijan Motaghedi, M.D., an Otolaryngologist in LaPlace, that he discovered what he wanted to do.

Ramirez said that seeing Dr. Motaghedi and his staff at work made him realize that there was more than one way to help others through health care. For Ramirez, the encouragement he received from his employers, his colleagues, and his family helped him decide to return to school and pursue a career as a Physician Assistant.

He first enrolled part-time at Delgado Community College and Tulane University to take the prerequisite science classes he needed to apply to Physician Assistant programs. He admitted that he found returning to school intimidating. He felt like the next generation of students were learning many things very quickly and utilizing technology that did not exist when he graduated over 30 years ago. Yet, he persisted, excited for the opportunity to learn new things at this later stage in his life.

“In P.A. [physician assistant] school, it gets even faster. It feels like we’re learning several new languages at once. We have to learn new terminology for each medical discipline. Each specialty, like Cardiology or Gastroenterology, has its own language. But as P.A.s, we have to learn as much as we can because it opens up ways in which we’ll be able to help others when we eventually do practice medicine,” Ramirez said.

As the COVID-19 pandemic pushed public health and health care concepts into the spotlight, Ramirez became even more determined to do his part.

“Before COVID-19, a lot of people were not familiar with what the ICU staff did in the hospital, but now everyone is more aware of what happens when someone goes on a ventilator. We have all become more conscious of the public’s health and how fragile it is. It’s a lesson we are still learning; what it takes to stop the spread of disease,” Ramirez said.

Through the NHSC Scholarship Program, Ramirez will have his tuition and other regulated costs at Xavier fully funded. The program also provides a monthly stipend to assist with living expenses.

Those who participate in the NHSC Scholarship program commit to a minimum of two years of full-time service to an eligible health center after graduation. Scholars will serve a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) clinic and hospital sites as determined by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. HPSA sites are identified using health provider-to-population ratios, poverty rates, and access to available primary health services. Scholars can choose to work at any urban or rural site of their choice as long as it meets HPSA requirements.

The NHSC Scholarship Program is a competitive federal program that awards scholarships to students pursuing eligible primary care health professions. Ramirez first became aware of the scholarship through communication from Xavier’s Dean of the College of Pharmacy, Dr. Kathleen Kennedy. Like all Xavier faculty, Dean Kennedy is committed to helping students of all levels succeed.

"Many students in our professional programs are often forced to finance their education primarily by obtaining graduate school loans or by working part-time,” said Dean Kennedy. “Our faculty and staff at Xavier are dedicated to seeking and identifying various funding resources for students to support their education. Potential scholarships are such an important resource since they help our students enter clinical practice after graduation without the burden of excessive debt."

Upon receiving his award letter from the program, Ramirez expressed his gratitude to the faculty and staff in the Physician Assistant Program at Xavier for helping him thrive.

“I am happy to be a part of Xavier University's Physician Assistant program,” said Ramirez. “I feel very fortunate to have been selected because Xavier University's goal has always been service to others, especially the marginalized and underserved, which is in line, not just with the NHSC's mission, but with my own goals as a future P.A. as well,” he added.

For Ramirez, the support he has received makes him glad in his choice to attend Xavier. He said he has learned so much during his time as a Xavierite, especially regarding the importance of teamwork in healthcare.

“The faculty and staff here have helped me realize that we don’t work in a vacuum- we are part of a team,” said Ramirez. “As P.A.s, we work with so many other health care professionals like physicians, pharmacists and mental health professionals to decide the best possible options for our patients. Sometimes the patient isn’t just dealing with their physical issues, so a medical perspective alone is not going to address their problem. We learn how to communicate with other professionals, our peers, to care for our patients.”