Beverly Apodaca has fond memories of growing up in rural New Mexico with her mother and grandparents. As an only child of a single mother, Beverly enjoyed playing veterinarian to the animals on her family’s ranch, including a number of dogs, horses, goats, cats and chickens.
In school, Beverly’s favorite class was health education and her favorite activity was Best Buddies, a program that paired able-bodied, able-minded students with students who had physical and mental disabilities for friendship and socialization. “I truly loved it, and it made me want to advocate for people with disabilities,” she said.
When Beverly started college at the University of New Mexico (UNM), she knew she wanted to pursue a career in health care, but she wasn’t sure which path to follow. She took an aptitude test, which suggested three options: florist, flight attendant and occupational therapist. “I love both flowers and flying, but decided to explore occupational therapy, even though I didn’t know much about it. When I learned what it does — that it helps people learn to be independent — it made me pursue it with a passion.”
As an undergraduate, Beverly kept busy with classes and a wide range of activities and leadership roles. Through the American Lung Association’s Open Airways for Schools program, she taught elementary schoolchildren how to manage their asthma, a condition she also shares. She held leadership positions with the New Mexico Asthma Coalition and UNM Student Occupational Therapy Association, was a volunteer CPR instructor with Project Heart Start and served as a volunteer driver with Albuquerque’s Designated Drivers on Demand program.
Beverly is currently pursuing her master’s degree in occupational therapy at UNM. Her goal is to work with geriatric patients, helping them design healthy lifestyles. “The reason I want to work with geriatrics is my grandfather helped raise me and I feel like I have a really good connection with older populations,” she said. “I really enjoy listening to older adults and I want to help them enjoy the quality of life they deserve.”
Beverly said her program places a strong emphasis on the importance of understanding cultural differences. “In New Mexico, we have one of the most diverse and unique cultural communities in the U.S.,” she said. “My mother and grandfather speak Spanish fluently and I’m working on it. Also, being rural myself has helped me connect with our rural residents because we share the same values and cherish the same things.”
Beverly was awarded a scholarship in 2014 through a partnership between the United Health Foundation and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute to support her graduate studies. She says that being a United Health Foundation Diverse Scholar has helped her in many ways. “It’s allowed me to maintain a balanced lifestyle in grad school,” she said. “And if I’m healthy, I can do a better job helping others to be healthy, too.”
Learn more about the Diverse Scholars Initiative.