Before Or Raizman Velasquez, MD ’21, MPH ’20, started her medical school clinical rotation on the mental health unit at University Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, she had never thought much about the importance of mental health and psychiatry in the medical field.
Then, working side by side with residents on the unit, she listened to patients’ stories and watched how their doctors cared for and about them. That experience sparked an interest in psychiatry that grew as she took more electives.
Now, Raizman Velasquez — who earned her medical degree from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in May 2021 — is in her first year of a psychiatry residency at UW Health. And she was helped along the way by a scholarship specifically designed for a student like her.
Steve Karges, PhD, and Lynn Karges, PhD, who live in Janesville, Wisconsin, created the Karges Family Psychiatry Scholarship at UW because they understand firsthand the importance of a community having quality psychiatric providers. Their daughter, Kimberly Karges, now 42, has autism and has suffered from mental health challenges since she was a teenager. While she has encountered kind, caring providers, her parents also struggled at times to find a psychiatrist when she was in a medication crisis.
“One of our daughter’s providers was in private practice, and when that position was eliminated, we had to hunt for a new psychiatrist,” says Lynn Karges. “I made at least 30 calls, and none of them worked out.”
While Kimberly Karges has since been able to move past her crisis and is on a new medication regimen, her parents haven’t stopped wondering why it is so difficult to find psychiatric help. They decided to fund a scholarship at the School of Medicine and Public Health in the hopes that it would encourage more medical students to pursue psychiatry.
Raizman Velasquez was the first medical student to receive their scholarship. Originally from Chile, she and her family moved to the United States when she was 7 years old, and they lived in California and Minnesota before settling in Indiana. She received her bachelor of science degree in biology from Indiana University in Bloomington, and subsequently took a gap year to pursue several health care volunteer opportunities in Chile and Rwanda.
At the School of Medicine and Public Health, Raizman Velasquez chose to enroll in the combined MD/master of public health (MPH) degree program. She completed her MPH in spring 2020 and took a short break before returning for her final year of medical school. At that time, the nation had largely shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so Raizman Velasquez decided to spend her time volunteering.
She followed up on an e-mail she received from the Latino Medical Student Association about a clinic in Chicago that was seeking a bilingual volunteer to do contact tracing for people who were diagnosed with COVID-19.
“I thought it would be a great opportunity to give back to the Latinx community,” says Raizman Velasquez.
During her time volunteering in this capacity with Howard Brown Health, she received a list of patients to call every week. She helped each patient complete a survey that asked questions about the patient’s situation — date of tests, symptoms and with whom they had been in contact right before and during their illness. She was then tasked with the challenge of getting contact information for those people, which proved to be difficult. While patients were receptive to questions about their own experiences, they were hesitant and unwilling to provide information about their friends, family members and co-workers.
“This showed me how much work the medical and public health institutions have yet to do to gain the Latinx community’s trust,” Raizman Velasquez observes. “I have learned a lot about how minority communities have a significant level of distrust in the government and medical institutions due to historical events, and with this volunteer work, I experienced firsthand how this distrust can affect these communities and their health.”
Following her psychiatry residency, Raizman Velasquez plans to become a child and adolescent psychiatrist and work in underserved communities where she can use her language skills to address cultural and language barriers.
She first met Steve and Lynn Karges during a Zoom meeting after she received the scholarship.
“That was a really big deal for me — just hearing their family’s story and why they wanted to provide financial relief for medical students,” she says. “It made the scholarship that much more meaningful.”
For the Karges family, Raizman Velasquez was exactly the right candidate to receive their scholarship.
“She fit our dream,” reflects Lynn Karges. “She has the passion, the empathy and the focus, and she wants to work with the underserved. It’s perfect for our goals.”
The Kargeses plan to continue to add money to their scholarship fund so they can help more medical students.
“I hope our scholarship helps people consider going into psychiatry,” Lynn Karges explains. “That’s what an awful lot of other people in the world need and can’t access.”
By Beth Earnest
This article appears in Quarterly magazine.