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Blue Shield of California Provides $500,000 to Increase Diversity in Mental Health Workforce

Investment in Health Career Connection supports new career pathways for 36 interns from diverse backgrounds

OAKLAND, Calif. (July 28, 2021) – Blue Shield of California today announced $500,000 of support to help train and equip the next generation of diverse mental and behavioral health professionals and leaders throughout the Golden State.

The funds will support Health Career Connection’s (HCC) summer internship program for college students and recent graduates, who are from under-represented or disadvantaged backgrounds and pursuing mental and behavioral health career opportunities. 

This commitment is part of Blue Shield’s BlueSky initiative, a multi-year effort to enhance access, awareness, and advocacy for youth mental health supports. As part of that goal, BlueSky is creating more career pathways for diverse mental and behavioral health professionals, who can provide culturally affirming services for members of the BIPOC community (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color). 

“Through BlueSky’s on-campus and virtual counseling of California teens, we’ve seen the positive impact of connecting BIPOC youth with mental health professionals who look like them,” said Jennifer Christian-Herman, Ph.D., executive director of Mind Body Medicine – Behavioral Health at Blue Shield of California. “However, we understand that there is not a level playing field for diverse individuals when pursuing a career in mental health care. We look forward to working with HCC to provide this year’s interns with a pathway to further their careers and ultimately increase the quality of mental health care for communities of color.” 

Driving health equity through career opportunities

The mental health profession does not reflect the diversity of the nation with 86% of psychologists and 88% of health service psychology workers being white, according to a study from the American Psychological Association. Additionally, there is a national shortage of mental health professionals to meet patient need. According to Health Resources & Services Administration data, nearly 90% of California counties are experiencing a shortage of mental health professionals.   

HCC’s development program aims to reduce that inequity and shortage by supporting racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse interns into the professional pipeline. Through HCC and its support from Blue Shield’s BlueSky program, the 36 participating interns will receive critical real-world experience, access to mentors and key networking opportunities. 

Creating opportunities with impact

"The need to build a more robust, diverse behavioral health workforce for California is more urgent and important than ever,” said Jeff Oxendine, CEO and founder of Health Career Connection. “With Blue Shield's generous support, our partnership is addressing this critical need statewide and in the counties with the greatest shortages. It is also providing valuable education, career and economic opportunity for college students from communities with significant mental health inequities and disproportionately adverse impacts of COVID-19." 

Over 30 years, HCC has connected its 3,800 alumni with more than 300 organizations to unlock their individual strengths, interests, and motivations. 

More than 95% of HCC graduates reported that their internship experience had a profound impact on their knowledge of health career options and educational paths, as well as increasing their confidence and belief that they can succeed in their careers. Alumni from the program have gone on to work at leading healthcare companies. 

This year’s intern class is already working at organizations across California in roles that benefit local youth and communities. Placements include: 

“We are honored to partner with the BlueSky initiative by hosting interns this summer through the Health Career Connection project,” said Jessica Cruz, MPA/HS, CEO, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) California. “Building a strong behavioral health workforce is key to providing accessible treatment for those individuals and families impacted by mental illness and substance abuse.”

Blue Shield is committed to accelerating career growth for diverse employees, by recruiting, hiring, and retaining diverse talent at all levels and maintaining a zero pay-ratio gap by both gender and ethnicity. 

With a ‘whole-person’ approach to health and well-being, Blue Shield also offers innovative tools to help employees, members and their families access appropriate, quality care and treatment. 

For more information on how Blue Shield’s BlueSky program addresses mental health needs for youth through equitable access to affordable mental health care and resources for teens, parents and educators, please visit:


About Blue Shield of California

Blue Shield of California strives to create a healthcare system worthy of its family and friends that is sustainably affordable. Blue Shield of California is a tax paying, nonprofit, independent member of the Blue Shield Association with over 4.5 million members, over 7,500 employees and more than $21 billion in annual revenue. Founded in 1939 in San Francisco and now headquartered in Oakland, Blue Shield of California and its affiliates provide health, dental, vision, Medicaid, and Medicare healthcare service plans in California. The company has contributed more than $150 million to Blue Shield of California Foundation in the last four years to have an impact on California communities. 

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About Health Career Connection (HCC)

Co-Founded by CEO Jeff Oxendine, HCC is a 30-year-old, national non-profit that inspires, empowers and professionally prepares the next generation of diverse health leaders and professionals. HCC connects college students, recent graduates and its 3,800 alumni from underrepresented and/or low income, first generation backgrounds to paid internships, employment, and graduate training opportunities within the health field. HCC partners with employers, universities, foundations, and associations to support interns and alumni pursuing careers in medicine, public health, behavioral health, nursing, health management, biotechnology, and research. The goal is for HCC alumni to succeed in their authentic health careers, serve underserved communities and advance health equity. HCC alumni are achieving this goal throughout California and nationally as clinicians, health executives, faculty members and public health professionals, including its recently honored 30 Inspiring and Impactful 30th Anniversary Alumni Leaders.

HCC has prioritized empowering students and alumni to pursue behavioral health careers and increasing the diversity of California’s behavioral health workforce for many years. The Blue Shield Partnership will significantly expand the scale, sustainability and impact of HCC’s behavioral health workforce work and opportunity for California students. For more information, follow HCC on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn and Instagram