Sakura Horiuchi has known she wanted to work in the medical field since she was in third grade. Inspired by a friend’s mother who was an anesthesiologist, the rising senior at Rhodes College is currently studying chemistry with the goal of becoming a surgeon.
She joins Asia White and Renae Spears, both students at East Tennessee State University, as recipients of the 2018 BlueCross Power of We Scholarship. Through the program, the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation awards $10,000 each year to three minority students pursuing careers in health care.
Horiuchi has worked as an intern at Methodist University Hospital in Memphis, where she conducted patient satisfaction surveys, and she is currently employed as an administrative assistant for a plastic surgeon at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. One of her favorite aspects of the work is the continuous learning.
“I’ve been thankful for this opportunity because I get to see that no matter what level of medicine you work in or what level of education you have, that the learning never really ceases,” she says.
Horiuchi, whose parents brought her to the United States from Japan when she was just two years old, is the first member of her family to pursue a career in the field of health care.
“Receiving the Power of We Scholarship was a great honor. I’ve been working hard up until now, and receiving the scholarship was such a whirlwind of support,” she says.
“Knowing how that feels makes me want to show support to other students in the health care field.”
Providing compassionate care for others
White, who is a nursing major, also hopes she can inspire others. “I would want other students pursuing a career in health care to know that it’s worth the long nights in the library, all the studying and not being able to go eat with your friends all the time. It’s really awesome because you’re helping someone get better so that they can go home to see their family,” she says.
She adds, “Being in nursing has taught me that it’s way more than sticking a needle in someone’s arm or giving them medicine. The patients really look up to you.”
White is passionate about pediatrics, and she currently works at a children’s hospital as a certified nursing assistant, taking vitals and assisting with X-rays and other needs. She was diagnosed with chronic asthma as a child, and her ultimate career goal is to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist. She would like to work with children and promote the benefits of physical fitness for those who suffer from asthma or reactive airway disorders.
She says the Power of We Scholarship will relieve some of the financial pressure on her family. Her brother is getting ready to begin his freshman year at the University of Tennessee, and her mother is in school receiving her doctorate.
“Seeing her work hard makes me want to work hard too,” White says.
A mentor in the making
For Spears, an exercise science major, a childhood spent around sports has led to a desire to work in physical therapy. When her sister, a softball player at Ole Miss, was injured and had to wear a boot, Spears witnessed her recovery and found inspiration in the process.
“Knowing she was down and out and seeing her work so hard to come back really inspired me,” she says. “I wasn’t that old at the time, but I knew physical therapy interested me.”
She has completed an internship in geriatrics, working with senior citizens who have sustained injuries, but she ultimately hopes to work in the sports field.
Spears, the youngest of seven children, says her parents are adamant about their children focusing on their studies. For her, the scholarship will help remove some of the financial burden of her schooling from her parents and allow her to attend classes without worrying about expenses.
She also hopes to use the scholarship and her future career as a way to inspire others like herself.
“I want to go back to the area I came from and mentor these kids and let them know there is a place for them,” the Memphis native says.
“I want other people interested in working in health care to know that it’s possible,” she adds. “Sometimes you feel like it’s impossible because you don’t see anybody doing it. Don’t let that deter you. If you want to do it, go for it. Invest in yourself.”
Moving toward a more inclusive workforce
Established in 2013, the BlueCross Power of We Scholarship seeks to promote inclusion in health care and close gaps-in-care among minorities in Tennessee. Studies suggest that minority populations remain underrepresented in medicine relative to their numbers in the U.S. population and populations in specific states, regions and localities.
In a ceremony held on Aug. 3 on the campus of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Horiuchi, Spears and White were recognized as BlueCross Power of We Scholars and joined the ranks of other award recipients who will help create a more diverse health care workforce reflective of Tennessee communities.
“To see someone like myself in the health care field means a lot because I feel like representation is everything. To have a younger kid look up to you and say, ‘Oh, she looks like me,’ or ‘He looks like me,’ and ‘I can do it because they’re doing it,’ means a lot,” Spears says.