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How Tina Kim Turned Her Family's Challenges Into Help For Others

Growing up in East San Jose, Tina Kim never heard the words “mental health,” let alone discussed it with her family. But she often sensed unspoken pain and trauma at home because of what her family had experienced through the Vietnam War and transitioning to life in the United States. 

“Navigating the beginnings of my adulthood as a young American with strong familial ties, I often reflected upon my upbringing and family's history to uncover questions about the existing generational trauma,” Kim said.

Tina Kim

Fortunately for Kim, she was able to channel these challenges into a robust commitment to her global public health studies at UC Berkeley. The first in her family to attend college, she dedicated herself to finding ways to reduce stigma in cultures like her own, to make seeking therapy okay for people like her and her parents. 

Recently, she took a big step toward realizing that goal by being selected as one of 36 interns who participated in the Health Career Connection’s (HCC) summer internship program, sponsored by Blue Shield of California. After learning about the program from a classmate, she was inspired by HCC’s mission to empower students from underserved and culturally diverse backgrounds to pursue careers in mental health and to help increase diversity in the healthcare workforce.

“Mental health care looks different for everyone,” said Kim. “For youth, getting professional help can be life-changing and prevent the future progression of other mental illnesses. If the counselor comes from a similar background to the patient, there is not a lot of explaining that needs to be done because there is a shared understanding, which can make the care easier to receive.”

During her internship, Kim was placed at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) California’s headquarters in Sacramento for 10 weeks. She’s particularly proud of her work there to create a youth advisory council structure for NAMI on Campus, a program that gives high school students a safe and supportive space to talk about mental health care. Blue Shield also collaborates with NAMI through BlueSky, which supports 70 NAMI on Campus clubs in 13 counties across the state.

Internships are a springboard for success

“Youth have a powerful role in decreasing the stigma in mental health and seeking treatment for mental health,” Kim shared. “My internship with NAMI California was an amazing, impactful experience. Not only did I learn valuable skills and lessons from the HCC personnel and career development workshops, but I also gained knowledge about mental health resources and policies through attending NAMI crisis counselor training and conducting informational interviews with professionals.”

After completing her HCC internship, Kim was hired as a clinical research coordinator at UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay. She plans to later attend graduate school to study medicine and public health. Kim adds that she hopes to help increase access to youth mental health education and resources. “From this internship, I know that I want to involve policy and advocacy work in my profession.”

Kim wasn't the only intern with a favorable experience. Most HCC interns gained valuable professional experience.

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For more information on how Blue Shield of California is advocating for youth mental health supports, visit BlueSky. Celebrating 30 years of connecting healthcare organizations to talented and diverse future health leaders, click here for information about Health Career Connection. Visit NAMI California to learn about mental health support and services for all Californians.