Scholarship Spotlight: Justin Fatoohi

Justin Fatoohi is a 2014 GHD high school health scholarship winner and graduate of Grossmont Middle College High School. Justin is also a recent graduate of San Diego State University, where he received a Bachelor of Science in chemistry, but he says he’s not done! Nearly four and a half years after receiving a GHD health career scholarship, in the same room where he received the award, he returned to address the Board of Directors and raise awareness about the health issues that are important to him. We interviewed him to learn more about his journey and the philosophies that drive him.

What inspires you about a career in healthcare?
I believe healthcare is and will continue to be one of the most powerful pillars of our society. Managing healthcare is a serious responsibility and it’s crucial for administrators to understand the impact their decisions have on folks’ knowledge and access to medical services. The availability of services such as doctor visits, hospitals, reproductive healthcare, mental health support, and prescription drug conduct are important for all people around the world. Our well-being revolves around these factors, which we deal with every single day. That significance alone inspires me to work toward learning present day policies that rightly respond to and reflect the public’s healthcare needs. Also, there aren’t many other career options that give you the kind of fulfillment that comes with making a positive impact in someone’s life. That’s what I think it should all be about.

Was there one incident or event that convinced you to pursue a career in healthcare?
Absolutely; it was after personally witnessing a dilemma that affected my classmates, friends, and family members. That dilemma is the growing popularity of a drug class known as benzodiazepines (“benzos”). These drugs come in different prescribed forms: Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, etc., and they sedate, or slow down, the activity in your brain. I have seen through my own experiences that this is a deep issue needing a responsible public response.

Although there is limited local data on this issue, I interviewed several sheriffs in San Diego County to do some of my own research. One common complaint is that they keep getting calls involving youths who commit crimes while under the influence of a benzo. When misused or abused, benzos may make you forget everything; they complicate your judgement, cause you to neglect your responsibilities/relationships, and above all they may cause a nasty addiction to form.

If this sounds like the opioid epidemic, that may be because the two drug classes are similarly harmful in terms of over prescription by health providers and misuse by patients. Unfortunately, benzos are the less talked about of the two, and I think that needs to change. Watching people of all ages struggle with this drug class has opened my eyes to the way America looks at those suffering from addiction in general. I think our current healthcare system plays a role in exacerbating these issues rather than treating them. This is why I want to pursue a graduate degree in public health policy‒to help build a future in healthcare that shifts away from some of our culture’s outdated perspectives on addiction and health in general. As Americans, we must re-prioritize how we respond to and provide for the public’s needs.

How has your scholarship helped you with your career goals?
My scholarship from GHD gave me more motivation and confidence. Doing any mission on your own can be complex, especially when you genuinely care for something and try your best to accomplish your goals. If you fail, you may be tempted to lose hope, stop trying. Opportunities presented by organizations such as the Grossmont Healthcare District are essential in encouraging students to stick with their mission. Of course, financial assistance always helps with education. But, beyond that, it is the formal support of established local agencies committing to prepare all of us for a sustainable future. That teamwork, along with knowing that there are people who support my journey, gives me what I need to keep me on the right path of my career goals. I am grateful for that!

Name a person or persons you admire and explain why.
There are a lot of people that deserve admiration in my opinion. I admire those who use creativity to produce meaningful art and music that viewers can empathize with. For me, singer/rap artist Yasiin Bey fits this description perfectly. Through his song ‘Rock N Roll,’ he illustrates the hardship his ancestors faced as slaves in America, and shines light on the African-American role in building the country, which has traditionally been heavily downplayed.

I also admire those who go the extra mile to give opportunities for young people. For example, I give props to my current employer, a local life sciences company called Calbiotech. The company first hired me as an intern and they provided the mentorship I needed to be able to flourish. I am grateful that they’ve helped inspire me to keep reaching for my goals. This mentorship is a trait I believe our public health representatives should display in order to nurture the next generation of health leaders. Mentorship is key to sustainability.

I believe our public health officials need the capacity to practice both empathy and mentorship. Genuinely relating to others’ experiences and practicing empathy toward health issues like substance abuse and mental health would help countless victims, who might otherwise be looked down upon or judged. We must change our outlook and admire the strength of our peers that are going through or have been through pain.

What are the most important issues facing the healthcare industry today? How do you want to make a difference?
I think the biggest issue of healthcare in our future is its implementation in our society. In the very near future, we will be deciding as a nation if we truly want to keep our current, for-profit system that benefits from not treating the sick. Or rather, do we want to create a system that ensures a reliable source of medical care to anyone, regardless of financial status? We also have to continue influencing our political representatives to rethink the way we run this nation, and start asking ourselves whether it makes sense to spend almost three quarters of our budget on the military. America only spends 6 percent per year on Medicare and health, which should explain why it seems that every single social services provider doesn’t have enough supplies for people in need! I want to influence those in rightful positions that we simply need to do more, and that starts with the understanding that our nation is in dire need of public health reconstruction. Of course, changing our nation’s perspective on health issues does not happen overnight, but with determination I believe it can be done. 

The District is an active supporter of healthcare education and training for the benefit of future generations. Each year, a portion of the overall District grants and sponsorships budget is allocated for scholarship programs offered to local high school and college students living or attending school within District boundaries. To learn more information or to apply, click the specific Scholarship Program below:

Richard J. Bea Nursing Scholarship
Health Tech Scholarship
High School Health Career Scholarship