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Nurse Sherri Howeya poses with her stethoscope

BCBSNM Scholarships Help NMSU Students and Increase Care Access

Sherri Howeya credits her fiancé, family and the Pueblo Acoma community with helping her earn her nursing degree last year from New Mexico State University.

With their support, Howeya, 29, returned to her studies in 2018 at NMSU. She worked part-time, cared for her now 12-year-old daughter and resuscitated a grade point average that had bottomed out, all so she could get into the nursing program and achieve her goal.

She’s also grateful for Dialysis Clinic Inc. in Grants, where she started as a patient care technician as she pursued her degree. Now, she works there as a nurse, which allows her to serve her community as well as accommodate her daughter’s needs.

“I found a way to give back to my people,” says Howeya, who practices speaking the Pueblo’s Keres language with patients. “When someone takes care of you, you give back as much as you can.”

A $5,000 scholarship from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico also helped ease Howeya’s mind so she could focus on her studies.

“When someone takes care of you, you give back as much as you can.”

“It helped at times when I wasn’t able to pay for something,” says Howeya, whose ambitions include continuing her education. “It helped in times of stress.”

Howeya is among 40 NMSU students studying nursing and social work who received BCBSNM scholarships after committing to working in the state at least one year after graduating. The collaboration with the university’s College of Health and Social Services, launched in 2020, was part of a $500,000 workforce initiative grant to increase care access for New Mexico Medicaid beneficiaries.

All 20 grant recipients studying social work graduated, and almost all of them are working or looking for work in New Mexico. Nineteen nursing scholarship recipients graduated, with 18 becoming licensed and working in New Mexico.

“Through this successful partnership, we were able to reduce financial barriers for students interested in pursuing careers in health care and support their commitment to work in New Mexico after graduation,” says Nancy Smith-Leslie, vice president of BCBSNM’s Medicaid program. “Considering the successful outcomes of this partnership, BCBSNM will continue to collaborate with higher education partners in New Mexico to grow the state’s health care workforce and make meaningful investments in the system to improve outcomes and access for all New Mexicans.”

The BCBSNM grant also helped fund a NMSU nurse faculty position through spring 2023 to expand teaching capacity and nursing student enrollment.

Dr. Alexa Doig, NMSU’s nursing school director, said the funding helped make a difference in the lives of 20 nursing students who otherwise may have struggled to stay in the program.

“About 50% of our students are first-generation college students,” she says. “A college degree really creates a lot of economic mobility for them and their families.”

Dr. Hector Diaz, NMSU’s social work school director, agrees, adding many of his students immigrated with their families to the United States to find more economic opportunities.

“They work extra hard, and success is their reward,” he says. “Receiving an education is an opportunity of a lifetime. These scholarships make it possible.”

Overcoming obstacles to find fulfillment

At 14, Michael Kinney knew a career in emergency medicine was his destiny. He and his mother, an emergency room and critical care nurse, had stopped to perform CPR on an accident victim.

“That was my first taste of being in the medical field and I was hooked,” says Kinney, now 52. 

But a life of obstacles — becoming a teen parent, dropping out of high school, enlisting in the Army and serving in law enforcement — blocked his path toward a health care career. Following his mother’s advice, Kinney went back to school to study nursing in 2017 as he retired as captain from the Dona Ana County Sheriff’s Department.

A BCBSNM scholarship recipient, Kinney graduated from NMSU’s nursing school in 2021. He became an emergency room nurse at Memorial Medical Center in Las Cruces, the hospital where he was born, and recently was promoted as a manager.

“I feel like I was born to be a nurse,” he says. “It’s so much more fulfilling for me. I credit my mom for helping me find my fascination with this whole emergency medicine thing, and she loves the fact that I kind of followed in her footsteps.”

A Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association