Fourth-year College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP) student Jennifer Nguyen recently received a $50,000 UniHealth Foundation scholarship.

The scholarship, one of six provided to medical students in Southern California annually, goes toward medical school expenses for the 2012-13 academic year.

UniHealth’s primary mission is to provide grants to hospitals in Los Angeles County and northern Orange County. In 2000, UniHealth started providing medical scholarships to encourage physicians to practice primary care medicine in underserved communities, said Mary Odell, president of the UniHealth Foundation.

“”The reasons many young physicians don’t end up serving in community clinics and underserved communities is because they were graduating with such huge amounts debt,”” she said.

Nguyen applied for the scholarship because its purpose spoke to her very strongly, and said she was pleasantly surprised when she received it.

“”I thought I might as well apply to this, because it’s talking about me,”” she said. “”My biggest passion is to help the underserved. Because of my background, I can understand the patient so much better, and this is why I want to be a doctor.””

Nguyen’s father fought with the South Vietnamese army and was held for 10 years in prisoner-of-war camps following the South’s defeat. Her family immigrated to the United States after his release.

Growing up in Garden Grove, Calif., she struggled to learn English through middle school, which affected her confidence.

Nguyen is the seventh COMP student to receive the scholarship, said Sherry Slade, director of Foundation and Corporate Relations at WesternU. She said a selection committee in COMP recommends a student based upon applications that meet the foundation’s criteria.

COMP and COMP-Northwest Interim Dean Paula M. Crone, DO, said the UniHealth Foundation scholarship provides students with the opportunity to express their passion to serve the local medically underserved community.

“”A vigorous desire to heal, combined with their strong medical education, makes our students stand apart from the rest,”” Crone said. “”Our students thrive in a culture of patient-focused care because they practice on a foundation of professionalism, benevolence, and respect.””

UniHealth has provided about $2.7 million in medical scholarships since 2000. WesternU was added to its list of schools in the 2006-07 academic year.

“”It’s been a really good grant-making program for us, and the outcomes have been very satisfying, because far and away, these students really are doing what they said they wanted to do by practicing and serving underserved communities,”” Odell said. “”If we can relieve some of their medical school debt, that opens more doors, and they can make different choices.””