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Building Cultural Competency in Health Care

Grant Focuses on First-Generation Students, Immigrants with Language and Cultural Knowledge

For medical professionals in Montgomery County, treating patients from around the globe is routine. The large and diverse foreign-born population, which now comprises more than half the county, is driving demand for skilled workers with multicultural knowledge and foreign language skills.

Through a renewed partnership with the Healthcare Initiative Foundation (HIF) and The Universities at Shady Grove (USG), Montgomery College is opening doors to more nursing, public health, and behavioral health/social work students with existing multicultural skills.

In spring 2021, HIF awarded a five-year grant totaling $1 million (shared between the Montgomery College Foundation and USG) to provide scholarships, life assistance awards, and wraparound educational and career supports to student awardees.

“The scholarship emphasizes the importance of workers having cultural competency in a very diverse county,” says Crystal Carr Townsend, HIF president and CEO. “First-generation students, with their cultural knowledge and foreign language abilities, are a valuable asset to the community— especially in health care settings.”

Pascaline Koumegui ’19, a Montgomery College nursing alumna, came to the United States from Cameroon at age 33. Her native language is French. As an HIF scholarship recipient, she completed an associate’s and a bachelor’s degree in nursing in four years—while also raising two young sons with her husband, an auto-detailing technician. Financial support from the scholarship allowed her to complete the rigorous nursing degree/certifications, and ultimately, to enhance her career
as a medical-surgical shift nurse in a local hospital.

“One of the benefits of the HIF program,” says Koumegui, “is the bilingual staff training. I earned certification in English-French medical translation, which allows me to serve as a medical interpreter. That skill is outstanding on my resume—and I feel so happy to be able to make a difference in somebody’s life.”

Another HIF scholarship recipient and Montgomery College nursing graduate, Ijeoma Aham ’21, took specialized training in cultural competency. Aham came to the U.S. from Nigeria, where English is the official language. She currently works in home health care in Silver Spring.

“The cultural competency training taught me how to approach patients from different countries with an additional awareness of their cultural practices,” says Aham. “It helps me serve them better as a nurse.”

Since 2016, the HIF Scholarship has benefitted 207 students overall, including 73 Montgomery College graduates (46 nursing, 14 public health, and 13 mental health). The new grant (2021-2026) will support 28 HIF students at MC and 28 at USG each semester. According to Townsend, HIF expanded the new grant to include a career
readiness coordinator who will help the HIF students hone their professional readiness. “The Career Experience Opportunities (CEO) program will benefit students by providing career competency workshops, career coaching, an annual industry-specific event, and a mentor match in their chosen field of study.”

For more information about supporting future health care professionals, contact Stuart Tart, corporate and foundation relations director, 240-567-7494 or