By Eric Ruble
Eryn Burnett and Christina Gonsalves both enrolled at USC in the fall of 2021. Although the two had never met, it turns out they share some big similarities. Both chose Price for its outstanding faculty, networking opportunities and course structure. Both faced different but profound childhood hurdles. And now, both plan to use their Master of Health Administration degrees to change the future of health care delivery for communities who are often overlooked by the system.
For Gonsalves, the realization that access doesn’t always equal quality began at a young age.
Although she doesn’t remember much of her time in Bangladesh – she and her family moved to the United States when she was 4 years old – she soon realized that their undocumented status prevented them from gaining the same opportunities as their U.S.-born neighbors.
This was especially true regarding their health care. “My family and I had a lot of barriers to quality care,” Gonsalves said.
As a Deferred Action on Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipient, Gonsalves says there is often a disconnect between hospital management and the marginalized people it serves.
“These populations are still overlooked at the administrative level,” she said.
Gonsalves earned her bachelor’s in public health from the University of California, Irvine in June 2020. She was drawn to the combination of health care and business, and wanted to continue pursuing that path through an MHA. She chose USC after speaking with several alumni.
“Everyone seemed to love the MHA, and I wanted that feeling,” she said. “I was really intrigued by the [Price] mission. I thought it aligned with what I wanted to do and my future career goals.”
Gonsalves says that through her Price courses, she has learned the health care system is even more complicated than she originally thought.
“What’s especially eye-opening is that there are endless opportunities for us to become leaders that address those complexities in the years to come,” she said.
Upon graduation, she plans to be an advocate for those who are excluded from receiving the best care possible. She is especially passionate about pediatrics and sees herself working at a place like Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where she once interned.
“I want to be a voice for not just undocumented communities, but just vulnerable populations, those that are often overlooked within health administration,” she said. “I feel like they’re often forgotten and I want to be a leader who remembers them.”
Burnett also sees herself in a career involving young patients. She says that’s because she was born premature and spent the first month of her life in the hospital.
Burnett was so small, she could fit in her father’s palm, and her mother had to buy her doll’s clothing.
“So many things could have gone wrong at that time, but I came out relatively OK,” she said. “I want to give back to other babies who were born that way.”
Like Gonsalves, Burnett hopes to eliminate gaps in care and help families like her own. She says the disparities are especially alarming in the maternal and neonatal spaces, as Black women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women, according to the CDC.
“That really motivates me. This is definitely where I want to leave a significant impact in the health care industry,” Burnett said.
She graduated from California State University, Long Beach with her bachelor’s in health care administration. One of the reasons she selected Price for her master’s was because she believed her voice would be heard. Before applying, she spoke with Black alumni about their time at USC.
“They were very welcoming, reassuring and transparent about their experiences,” Burnett said. “From those interactions, I got to see what kind of network USC could provide for me.”
She also selected Price’s MHA because of its unique residency program, which requires students to work 1,000 hours in the health care field. Students have completed residencies at Cedars-Sinai, Providence, Kaiser Permanente and other prominent health institutions.
“Residency was very appealing because a big concern for post-grads is having enough experience to get the job,” Burnett shared.
She is also passionate about educating people about health care – an interest that has only grown during the pandemic. She uses her social media accounts, like Instagram and LinkedIn, to help others understand the intricacies of the modern health care system.
“With COVID-19, I saw a lot of misinformation going viral and being spread, even within my own groups – my friends and family,” Burnett said. “Since then, I took it upon myself to not only correct that misinformation, but to also start more nuanced conversations about health care, because it is complicated.”
At USC, Burnett has been exposed to new perspectives which have broadened her view of the field. She says one of the fun challenges at Price is trying to make time for everything it has to offer.
“There are so many opportunities and experiences that come our way. So, the hardest thing is figuring out what to commit to, what to sign up for, what to take advantage of – and using all of these things to progress your career strategically so that it moves you toward your dream role or position,” Burnett said. Changing America’s massive health care institutions is a slow, grueling process; but Gonsalves and Burnett know it’s a critical mission. As they further their careers, supported by their powerful personal connections to real problems faced by countless people, they will be well equipped to find solutions.