Inspiring Future Physicians

Spring 2024
A photograph of a woman standing in a street wearing a white lab coat, holding a stethoscope around her neck.

Bre’anca Sanders, recipient of a UArizona Health Sciences Primary Care Physician Scholarship

Photo provided by Bre'anca Sanders

Primary Care Physician Scholarship Program 

Arizona has the unique distinction of being one of the fastest-growing states in the country, and the number of primary care providers has not kept pace with the growing demand. The University of Arizona Health Sciences is combating this workforce shortage by developing a new generation of primary care doctors through the Primary Care Physician Scholarship program.

The program awards scholarships annually to medical students at the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson and the UArizona College of Medicine – Phoenix who intend to pursue residency training in family medicine, general internal medicine, geriatric medicine, general pediatrics, psychiatry, obstetrics and gynecology, or general surgery. Each scholarship recipient agrees to practice medicine in a federally designated underserved community for up to four years after graduation and residency training.

Motivating Future Generations

Expectant mother Bre’anca Sanders drove to Koreatown, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in downtown Los Angeles, turned down an alley into a tiny parking lot and walked into a free clinic from the backside of the building. She checked in and sat down in the prenatal waiting room, where she waited for hours.

It was Sanders’ first experience with health care in an urban setting.

“I would have to clear my schedule for the whole day,” Sanders recalls. “I could be waiting in the clinic for three to five hours, despite having an appointment. I would look around the room and see the burden this was putting on a lot of the other women, especially those that could be losing wages or risking their employment due to the inconsistent appointment durations.”

A self-described “military brat,” Sanders was used to the comprehensive coverage provided by TRICARE, a health care program of the U.S. Department of Defense Military Health System. But while living on her own as an expecting mother, she decided to go on Medicaid to lower her out-of-pocket costs.

“There was only one physician for prenatal care and one for pediatrics,” Sanders says. “I know there was only so much each of them could do. That experience showed me there needs to be more physicians in urban areas.”

Sanders gave birth to a daughter, Londyn. Now, five years later, she is on her way to becoming a physician as a recipient of the University of Arizona Health Sciences Primary Care Physician Scholarship

A Curiosity for Science

Becoming a physician has long been a goal for Sanders, who has no shortage of experience with health concerns in her family. An honors student in high school, Sanders found herself dozing off in class and noticed she was not feeling like herself. She became concerned enough to see a doctor, who brushed aside her worries. But Sanders knew something was not right. She implored her mom to take her back.

Doctors eventually diagnosed Sanders with hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough of certain crucial hormones. Unsure what might have caused the condition, they also ordered an MRI.

“It turned out I had a brain tumor,” says Sanders, who no longer has hypothyroidism. “My mom freaked out when she heard the doctor tell me. Fortunately, I never needed surgery, and the tumor is under control. It doesn’t affect me anymore."

From that experience, Sanders realized two things: the importance of being an advocate for her own health and her growing passion for science.

“One of the big reasons I was motivated to become a doctor was the science aspect of it,” Sanders says. “I liked the idea of using science to figure out what is going on.” 

Sanders witnessed other health struggles in her family. Her father was diagnosed with colon cancer, a disease his grandmother had also had, shortly after his release from prison. Colon cancer is highly preventable with regular screenings, but the warning signs of his cancer were missed before and during his incarceration.

A photograph of a mother and daughter smiling next to each other

Sanders and her daughter, Londyn

“For too long, his needs were not taken seriously,” Sanders says. “I am committed to changing the accessibility for those who need it most.” 

Sanders is hopeful that her personal journey and work experiences will mold her into the type of physician needed in today’s health care setting. Her goal is to build meaningful relationships with patients from vulnerable communities, essentially shifting the paradigm for inner-city health care.

“My hopes are that this scholarship will allow me to become a physician and show Londyn that following your passion pays off,” Sanders says, referring to her daughter. “She aspires to be a scientist, so I want to emulate a positive journey for her.”

Subscribe to the Alumni Insider

The Arizona Alumni Insider is a monthly newsletter for University of Arizona alumni. In it you will find information on alumni events around the country, news about university rankings and accomplishments, profiles of Wildcat alumni, donors and students who are making a difference, special opportunities just for Wildcats like you, and so much more.

Subscribe now