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The University of Utah Physician Assistant Program was awarded a 5 year training grant, The PA Primary Care Training for Substance Abuse and Mental Health, from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). The focus of the grant is to graduate PA students prepared for careers in primary care in urban underserved or rural populations with the training to care for substance use and mental health disorders while also equipping students with the skills necessary for career sustainability and burnout prevention.

One objective of the grant is to increase primary care training, with an emphasis on rural and underserved areas, to result in an increased number of graduates working in primary care.

To meet this goal, HRSA Primary Care Scholars was developed with a $16,000 scholarship. PA students interested in working in primary care during their first year of training apply for a highly competitive scholarship with a focus on rural or urban underserved populations. HRSA Primary Care Scholars during their clinical year have increasing exposure of primary care training with the goal of primary care employment upon graduation. Additionally, each Scholar completes a Clinic based research project at one of their Primary Care training sites.

2021 HRSA Primary Care Scholars

Jessica Barney graduated magna cum laude from Southern Utah University with a bachelor’s in biology and a chemistry minor. She worked as a medical assistant at a pediatric clinic for three years before joining the University of Utah Physician Assistant Program (UPAP). She grew up in Castle Dale, Utah. Her experiences there and love for rural Utah has given her a passion for rural primary care. She chose UPAP because of its mission to improve access to care for the medically underserved, which aligns with her own goal of bringing high-quality healthcare to rural populations.
Pete Castillo Pete Castillo is from Pecos, Texas, and received his B.S. in biology with a minor in chemistry from Texas State University. Following his graduation, he returned to Pecos to work as a CNA in a primary care rural health clinic. Raised in a rural town with a large Latino population, Pete’s sense of community gravitated him to healthcare. He has experienced first-hand the effects of healthcare disparity and works hard to reduce these disparities. Following his training in UPAP, he plans to return to Pecos to practice as a certified physician assistant, providing care, advocacy, and a familiar perspective to those who helped raise him.
Pete Castillo Pei Chen is passionate about providing care to underserved urban communities, particularly around addressing substance use disorders and the health impacts of unstable housing. She hails from a background of healthcare strategy and operations before deciding to retrain as a PA to have a more direct impact on patients, and has also worked as a medical case manager at a federally qualified health center. A first generation immigrant, she has roots in San Francisco and the metro Detroit area. She graduated from Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy. She chose UPAP for its mission focus and the continued opportunities to work with medically underserved patients.
Colton Kesler grew up in a little town called Glenwood, which is just outside of Richfield, Utah. He grew up spending most of his time outside hunting, fishing, camping, and raising livestock. Following his high school graduation and a religious mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Colton attended Southern Utah University (SUU), where he decided to pursue the physician assistant career. While at SUU, Colton received his EMT and AEMT certification from Southwest Technical College and worked at Biomat USA Inc. as a Medical Specialist. He was also a member of Rural Health Scholars. He graduated in 2018 with a degree in biology and a chemistry minor. He chose UPAP for its commitment to primary care and emphasis on rural medicine, which aligns with his own personal mission for providing care to the underserved.
Waliah Wyatt graduated summa cum laude from John Jay College of Criminal Justice with a B.S in Forensic Toxicology and a minor in analytical chemistry. Her science and clinical background include scientific research, specifically using instrumentation such as LCMS, GCSM, molecular spectroscopy, and clinical laboratory science. Prior to starting UPAP, she worked for 5 years at ARUP laboratories in Salt Lake City as a molecular technologist (ASCP MBTM) in both the infectious disease and molecular genetics laboratories. She chose to join the UPAP family due to the program’s strong mission focus, to expand medical care to underserved populations.