As the oldest child in the family, Bricia Santoyo learned to juggle multiple responsibilities as she grew up, balancing schoolwork with caring for her three younger siblings while her parents worked in agriculture.
When Bricia was in high school, her caretaking duties expanded when her mother came down with a series of gastrointestinal illnesses that required multiple surgeries. Bricia remembers trying to help her parents, who didn’t speak fluent English, navigate the health care system. “It was so hard to find physicians or a clinic that had some type of interpreter who could help my mom,” she recalled. “If I didn’t go with her, there was a lot of miscommunication and we would end up missing appointments or not getting the right referrals.”
Through her experience, Bricia saw the importance of culturally competent health care providers. “Being by her side, I saw what a great need there is for people who can make things happen and shape policy for people like my mother,” she said.
After high school, Bricia joined the Florida Army National Guard, serving as a logistical specialist while also attending college at the University of Central Florida.
“Being in the National Guard was an extremely positive experience for me,” she said. “I had great mentors and earned my degree while serving, which was a big deal for a girl from a little agricultural town where not a lot of people go to college.”
Bricia earned her bachelor’s degree in sports and exercise science, receiving support from a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) scholarship, funded by the United Health Foundation Diverse Scholars Initiative. Attending the Diverse Scholars Forum, an annual meeting in Washington, D.C., that brings together scholarship recipients to meet with policymakers and thought leaders, was eye-opening for her. “It was so great to see all the possibilities for a health care career and connect with other students who have similar backgrounds to my own," she said.
Bricia went on to earn a master’s degree in health services administration at the University of Central Florida. While in graduate school, she helped to research community outreach programs for Florida Hospital (now AdventHealth) in Orlando and worked as a bilingual licensed health insurance agent for Optum. After graduating, Bricia worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., for U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, helping to shape health care policy.
Bricia is currently completing an administrative residency at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C. In the future, she hopes to become a leader in health care administration. “The experiences I’ve had helped me learn to connect with people from a wide variety of diverse backgrounds,” she said. “I want to give back by helping to improve the health care system for everyone.”