On June 27, Cook County Health announced the third cohort of Provident Scholarship Fund awardees, students who are pursuing careers in the medical field and are committed to caring for or are living in underserved communities.

Overall, 91 students received scholarships, totaling more than $1 million. It was the largest number of awardees since the program’s inception in 2022.

“When this scholarship fund was created, we had our sights set on creating a more equitable health care system that provides high-quality, culturally competent care for all,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said. “These students should be applauded as amidst significant health care challenges in our country, they want to be part of the solution and create more access and equity in health care.”

The federal government projects that in the next decade, the U.S. will have a shortage of more than 330,000 registered nurses, 200,000 therapists and counselors and 140,000 physicians.

“We cannot just sit by and watch these shortages grow. Through this scholarship program, Cook County is taking action to support the development of a robust and representative health care workforce,” Cook County Health Interim CEO Dr. Erik Mikaitis said.

The Provident Scholarship Fund provides $20,000 scholarships to health professional students, including those in doctorate-level medical and dental programs, as well as physician assistant and nurse practitioner programs. The fund also provides $10,000 scholarships to undergraduate and allied health students, including nursing, surgical and radiology technology, respiratory therapy and paramedic programs.  

“It is a privilege that we can come together to support this incredible group of young professionals. By empowering these aspiring medical leaders, we are ensuring a skilled, compassionate, and diverse workforce ready to tackle the health care challenges of tomorrow,” said Carrie Pramuk-Volk, Interim Chief Human Resources Officer, Cook County Health.

The goal of this program is to provide opportunities to students coming from communities that historically have faced greater challenges, including access to education, economic opportunities, transportation, food or medical care. 

This year’s award ceremony was dedicated in honor of Commissioner Dennis Deer, Vice Chair of the Cook County Health Board of Directors, who was instrumental in establishing the scholarship fund in 2022. Commissioner Deer passed away earlier this week. He was a champion of public health and passionate about creating equity for all residents of Cook County across all facets of society, including health care, education, economic opportunity, and beyond.

“We know that when a health care workforce is representative of the community it serves, we see a greater level of trust and engagement with providers, and improved patient outcomes. By investing in our future health care leaders, we are not only promoting social justice, but also strengthening the overall health care system throughout the county,” said Shannon Andrews, Chief Equity & Inclusion Officer, Cook County Health.  

A study published last year in JAMA Open Forum found that Black and Brown prospective medical students face greater financial barriers to medical school, and are more likely to be discouraged by academic advisors from pursuing medicine. 

Applicants were evaluated on their academic achievements and consideration was given to the candidate’s Cook County zip code and where it falls on the Social Vulnerability Index. 

The Provident Scholarship is funded thanks to Cook County Government and Cook County Health, with administrative support from the Cook County Health Foundation.

“To our scholars, you will have important roles as healers in Cook County. I hope you embrace the opportunity to lead in your community. We are proud to support you,” said Cook County Health Foundation Board Chair Joe Flanagan.

The scholarship program is named after Cook County Health’s Provident Hospital. Provident Hospital was founded in 1891 by Dr. Daniel Hale Williams. It was the first hospital in the U.S. that was owned and run by African Americans, and it cared for people of all races. 

The Provident Hospital Scholarship Fund is one of many educational initiatives being supported by Cook County, including Project Rainbow, which aims to inform, inspire, and impact children, students and families across the County. For more information on Project Rainbow visit https://projectrainbow.cookcountyil.gov/.

For more information about the Provident Scholarship Fund, visit https://cookcountyhealth.org/about/careers/provident-scholarship-fund/.