Students, Alumni and Faculty News!

Valeria Pernas. Photo by Alyson McClaran

How overcoming cancer led Valeria Pernas to pursue a career in holistic medicine

She was diagnosed in her 20s. Now, she’ll graduate with a degree in Integrative Health Care, so she can help others navigate treatment.

She was done with treatment by January 2020, and thanks in part to her cancer journey, Pernas reenrolled at MSU Denver in the Integrative Health Care Program.

“The Integrative Health Care Program is so diverse in how students learn in regards to health care,” Pernas said. Traditional core subjects such as Biology and Chemistry are combined with topics such as Ayurvedic medicine and herbalism. “The program gives you a wide perspective on how to approach health care in a holistic way.”

“I got to share my story, which was a powerful and humbling experience in such a space,” Pernas said. She also witnessed doctors advocating for change, something she admired greatly. “Advocacy is a priority and passion of mine in my desire to pursue medicine,” she said.

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Julianna Montoya 2 Red Article Photo by Alyson McClaran

Closing the equity gap

After witnessing her family’s challenges, this student decided to be an agent for change in her community.

Montoya, a double major in Public Health and Biology, knew she was on the right path from the moment she took her first class with Erin Seedorf, Dr.PH, assistant professor in the Department of Health Professions. And connecting with numerous Health Institute programs further solidified her resolve. As a Healthcare Interest Program participant, Montoya shadowed practitioners at Denver Health’s Sam Sandos Westside Family Health Center on Federal Boulevard.

“It was striking — all of the patients looked like me,” Montoya said. “Even more so, I overheard moms telling their daughters, ‘You see her? That could be you someday.’ “To be able to be in that space and help others see they belong — I’m just overwhelmed with gratitude.”

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KG Headshot 1

Kris Geerken is a Master of Health Administration Alumna and co-director of Changing the Narrative, an organization that wants to end ageism. She says research shows that negative beliefs about aging – our own or other people’s – are detrimental to our health.

“It actually can accelerate cognitive decline, increase anxiety, it increases depression. It can shorten our lifespans by up to seven-and-a-half years,” she says, adding that a 2020 study showed that discrimination against older people, negative age stereotypes, and negative perceptions around one’s own age, cost the health care system $63 billion a year.

Still, beliefs can change. “When we have positive beliefs about age and aging, those things are all flipped,” Geerken says, and we tend to age better.

Listen to the full NPR Interview

Amy Dore Aging CPR Interview Photo

Aging in place in Colorado; Colorado Wonders where does lottery money go?

Colorado is aging faster than most other states, and there’s a need to ensure aging in place — older people living wherever they want, regardless of health conditions or disabilities. There’s a new program from Metropolitan State University of Denver designed to meet that need in many different ways. And, have you ever bought a lottery ticket and wondered where all that money goes? You’re not alone. Colorado Wonders has answers. Professor Amy Dore is the Aging Services Leadership Program Coordinator for Metropolitan State University of Denver and Jackie Schwartz is a student in the program. The university recently launched an undergraduate program focused on building up a stronger workforce in Colorado equipped to support the ever-growing senior population.

Listen to the Full CPR Interview Here. 

Kayla Wright Red Photo

Tech startup has prescription for ailing health care workforce pipeline

Kayla Wright-Jackson had moved to Atlanta to lead human resources at a home-health organization when she recognized a disconnect: Employers were having a hard time recruiting and retaining certified nursing assistants, or CNAs.

“One person ends up taking care of more than twice as many people as they should,” said the 2019 Metropolitan State University of Denver Master of Health Administration graduate. “The equation was simple: People are overworked and underpaid. That’s a recipe for burnout.”

So Wright-Jackson founded Transition, a tech platform built to bridge the gap between vocational training and employment opportunities and help fill entry-level front-line roles — such as CNAs and medical assistants — who are responsible for 85% of direct patient care.

“These health care-training providers produce over 70% of the health care workforce but are overlooked,” Wright-Jackson said. “Without the right tools and resources, it is challenging to reach future talent from the start.”

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MSU Denver student Jackie Schwartz reads about Egyptology and mummification with resident Jeanne Dietrich in her room at Clermont Park- senior community living on May 17, 2023. Photo by Alyson McClaran

MSU Denver tackles critical shortage of elder-care workers

Colorado’s population is trending older. At the end of last year, the state was second only to Alaska for the fastest growth among the 65-and-older demographic. By 2050, Colorado’s number of older adults is expected to more than double to 1.7 million.

Yet there’s no sign of an end to the state’s alarming shortage of caregivers for its aging citizenry. To help meet the growing demand, Metropolitan State University of Denver will launch an undergraduate major in Aging Services Leadership this fall. The new degree’s emphasis on direct-care expertise and business management will provide students with an experience not found in the region or outside of graduate-level programs.

It’s a strategic move to answer a critical workforce need, along with an appeal to a sense of shared humanity.

“Everyone has a right to a peaceful last season of their lives,” said Amy Dore, professor in MSU Denver’s Department of Health Professions. “When you have (an aging population combined with a staffing exodus), who’s left to care for folks? That’s what we’re hoping to answer.”

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Air Force lieutenant works toward her master’s while stationed overseas

Jessica Flores-Faisal never intended to go to college.

“When I was in high school, I didn’t really think about pursuing higher education,” she said.

The 28-year-old, who was born in Mexico and adopted and raised in Aurora, joined the Air Force Reserves at age 17. She has spent over a decade in the military.

Today, she has her bachelor’s in Health Care Management from Metropolitan State University of Denver and is working toward her master’s degree with the University while stationed in Germany. She credits MSU Denver for meeting her where she was: passionate about her experience in the military and looking for a career where she would be able to grow her service in new directions. So after finishing her bachelor’s degree in May, she immediately began the master’s program in Health Administration (MHA).

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Thalia Rodriguez Image

Better ingredients for better health

This article features two of our health profession alumni, Thalia Rodriguez (right) and Ines Calvete Barrios, exploring better health through nutrition. Thalia Rodriguez is a Health Care Management Alumna and now Master of Health Administration student. Ines Calvete Barrios is an alumna of the Integrative Health Care program.

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Trouble in the ozone: Denver’s declining air quality is a serious problem.

This year, Denver was ranked the seventh-most ozone-polluted city in the country. And in April, the Environmental Protection Agency admonished the city (for the second time in three years) as a “severe” violator of federal air-quality standards.

A recent study estimated that ambient ozone pollution, specifically, causes more than 800 deaths each year in Colorado. And as Denver once more starts to fall back to the notorious “brown cloud” days of the 1980s, the city’s pollution levels represent a growing threat to public health.

“I agree with leaders across the state, including from our state health department, that recent events indicate a clear need to start taking climate change seriously,” said Erin Seedorf, Ph.D., assistant professor in MSU Denver’s Department of Health Professions. “It’s important that we push for bold climate-policy development.”

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Maddy Chapman photo

Together We Can Combat the Devastating Effects of Ageism and Ableism

Article by by Dr. Amy Dore, CLC Board Chair, Metropolitan State University Professor and Maddy Chapman, MHA at MSU Denver Alum, Director of Community Life, Someren Glen

Did you know that ageism is learned and developed during early childhood and continued throughout adulthood? Did you know 61 million adults in the United States live with a disability? Ageism and ableism plague every aspect of our society, affecting how we view others and ourselves and triggering job loss, memory issues, health complications, decreased lifespan, and even impacts our national Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Did you know that you can play a part in combating Ageism and Ableism?

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Ines Calvete Barrio in front of a bright yellow wall, her hands on her hips and something happening off to the left that must be making her very happy, evidenced by a glowing smile.

Breaking barriers, saving lives

An ‘Afro-Latina, first-generation student, STEM enthusiast, proud immigrant’ and President’s Award winner perseveres to graduation.

Before Ines Calvete Barrios came to the United States, she lived in Barranquilla, Colombia, where she said she faced domestic violence, poverty and uncertainty.

Then, things got worse. In 2012, at age 12, she and her family came to Denver.

“Soon after we arrived, we found ourselves in an abusive, controlling and dark place,” said Calvete Barrios, the 2022 President’s Award winner for student achievement and Integrative Health Care major at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

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Dr. Ricardo GonzalesFisher 9NEWS

Vaccination challenges in the latino community

Health Professions Professor Ricardo Gonzalez-Fisher, MD speaks to 9NEWS about the low vaccination rate in the Latino community and the vaccine clinics offered by his organization.

Watch the Video

Ezekiel Peters News Screenshot

First-Of-Its-Kind Survey Aims To Stop Exodus Of Health Care Workers

MHA Professor Ezekiel Peters is part of a  disaster preparedness coalition of health organizations in Colorado that is taking action to prevent widespread staff shortages in health care.


Three MHA Alumnae

MHA Alumnae Featured on PBS 12

MHA Alumnae have joined community leaders on public television to discuss ageism, the future of work, technology and more amid COVID-19.


Health Professions newsletter cover Spring 2021

HEP Spring 2021 Newsletter

Read more about the Department of Health Professions including scholarship awards, new Faculty, and a contest to name our newsletter!


MHA Professor

Historic Implications of COVID-19

Dr. Seedorf, MHA Professor, interviewed by 9news to discuss the unprecedented timeframe in which the COVID-19 vaccine was developed and approved.


MHA Professor

Life expectancy in Denver varies depending on what part of the city you live in

MHA Professor and founding MHA Program Director, Dr. Amy Dore, speaks to why the differences in life expectancy are so stark in Denver.


Health Professions Professor

COVID in Colorado: Stride Community Health Expands Vaccination Program

Professor Allison Draayer is leading the vaccine effort in the Denver Metro area in this CBS News Denver Article.


Health Professions Professor

Cost of Care: Purchasing alliances for more affordable health care

Professor Chris Looby speaks to the importance of affordable health care in this Denver7 News story.


MHA Professor

Families picking cost-sharing companies to save on health care

MHA Professor Jeff Helton, PHD speaks to the cost of health care in this 9 News Interview.


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