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Joel’s Story: UC Berkeley Student says Blue Shield Fellowship is Helping Turn His Trauma into a Career

Joel Rubio is one of five interns working at Blue Shield this summer as part of our Health Equity Fellowship.
Joel Rubio at the May 2023 Health Equity Fellowship reception at Blue Shield of California

When UC Berkeley graduate student Joel Rubio was a teen, he was awakened in the middle of the night to the sound of Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents dragging his father away for deportation. A month later, his mother was deported, and at 17 years old, he was forced to fend for himself.

Flash forward 12 years, and Rubio is turning that trauma into a life’s career to support the mental health of youth who have survived similar family separations.

“My parents had a dream that I’d be the first in my family to get a college education and go on to be a doctor,” said Rubio. “But ‘doctor’ doesn’t resonate with me. I want to use my story to raise awareness and get public health policymakers talking about the mental health impacts of ICE family separations on tens of thousands of adolescents.”

Rubio is part of the cohort of five students in the Blue Shield of California Health Equity Fellowship, who are interning at Blue Shield of California this summer. The program, in its second year at UC Berkeley School of Public Health, is focused on increasing the diversity of professionals in health care, as well as advancing culturally informed care and equity-driven policy decisions. By building a pipeline of healthcare and public health leaders with racially diverse lived experiences like Rubio’s, the fellowship aims to reduce disparities in health outcomes between people of color and their white counterparts.

“When I was growing up in Los Angeles and went to the health clinic with my parents, we were speaking Spanish, and the doctors only spoke English,” said Rubio. “That left a mark on me. If we can diversify the healthcare system, we can build trust in the community, because providers would understand how our shared experiences impact our health.”

Blue Shield is investing $7 million in the fellowship over five years. The program supports approximately 100 UC Berkeley School of Public Health masters and doctoral students like Rubio from communities underrepresented in health care and public health, including Black, Native American, Latinx, and Pacific Islander.

CalFellows group photo May 2023
The Health Equity Fellows gathered at Blue Shield of California's Oakland headquarters, May 2023

Blue Shield not only provides fellows with scholarships but also with real-world professional experiences – including internships and access to mentors. The company anticipates hiring many of the fellows upon graduation.

Components include a robust set of resources and opportunities:

  • Early outreach to and recruitment of prospective fellows
  • Tutoring and career services
  • Leadership and professional development workshops
  • Educational and mental health counseling
  • Social activities and networking opportunities with fellowship alumni
  • Opportunities to apply biostatistics and advanced analytics expertise to real business challenges
  • Internships at Blue Shield of California and access to mentors at the health plan

The Health Equity Fellowship contributes to Blue Shield’s commitment to make systemic change that will create a more equitable healthcare system.

Joel quilt_square
Torn Apart, Pero Nunca Separados: “This quilt is a testament to the resilience and healing of families who have directly experienced the impact of the U.S. immigration system,” said Joel Rubio. “As someone whose parents were deported when I was an adolescent, this quilt serves as a testimony that although my family was torn apart, nunca seremos separados.”

“At Blue Shield, we know that having people from marginalized communities in health leadership positions is critical to transforming the healthcare system,” said Antoinette Mayer, vice president of corporate citizenship at Blue Shield of California. “We cannot achieve health equity without developing, supporting, and employing people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives.”

Though fellows are placed throughout the community, Rubio’s internship is with Blue Shield of California, specifically in Human Resources. Here, he is developing strategy for our employee ambassador program. Blue Shield has a wide variety of employee volunteers who do outreach in the community to increase the pipeline of diverse talent employed by the company. Rubio is crafting a resource guide to equip ambassadors with cultural humility and sensitive ways to ask and answer questions.

Later this year, Rubio will present some of his master’s degree research, titled “Abolish ICE: The Consequences of Immigration Enforcement Among Latine Adolescents,” at the American Public Health Association annual meeting. He hopes it will inspire the group to take action.

“No one should have to survive such a traumatizing journey,” said Rubio. “But if my story can get public health decision-makers to create culturally informed policies, it will be rewarding to have those impacts.”

Blue Shield of California was recently named #1 in the nation for 2023 Top Regional Companies by DiversityInc. The entire Regional Companies list and other specialty lists can be viewed here.