Walker Wins Lyman T. Johnson Fellowship

By Ryan Clark
CHS Communications Director

Latoya Walker was born in Jamaica, grew up in New York, but found her home in the Bluegrass of Kentucky.

As a Human Health Sciences alum, she is now in the Physician Assistant Studies program, where she continues her advocacy for health equity. After winning the Lyman T. Johnson Award as an undergraduate, she has now won the Lyman T. Johnson Fellowship — and the honor felt just as good, she said.

“To win the Lyman T. Johnson fellowship is an honor and I am so excited I was chosen,” she said. “I remember in undergrad I won the Lyman T Johnson award for the College of Health Sciences, and went to the award dinner where I was deeply impacted by the words of Lyman T Johnson’s grandson. His experience at one time on this campus was not easy, but a brutal one filled with hate.

“Yet, his bravery and selflessness created doors for someone that looks likes me to overcome barriers and move towards a better future,” she continued. “For that, I am forever grateful and can only aim to perpetuate these same qualities.”

Here’s 5 questions with Lyman T. Johnson Fellowship winner Latoya Walker …

1. Why did you come to UK?

I found out about the HHS major here at the University of Kentucky and wanted to pursue it after meeting with the amazing staff in the Office of Student Affairs. I was planning to eventually apply to PT school, then in my junior year of college, I was introduced to the PA profession and began to fall in love with it.

2. What got you interested in your program?

I didn't realize I was interested in practicing medicine at first, but I quickly began to learn about the disparities that exist in healthcare, especially among minority women, and quickly envisioned how medicine can be used as a tool to combat them. I valued medical education and learning about a wide range of diseases and syndromes, and in most of them I kept hearing the same phrase: “more common in black and brown individuals.”

I enjoyed exploring the public health and socioeconomic side, as well as learning about medicine. Eventually after shadowing MDs, DOs, and PAs, I felt the PA profession was the best fit for me. I loved the lateral mobility and enjoyed the increased patient contact.

3. What do you hope to do in the future?

Whenever I would talk to patients, I heard many stories about them being impacted and heard by the PAs on their clinical team. I would talk to other clinicians, and they would tell me of PAs on the clinical team and how valuable they were in the patient care process. 

During this journey of PA school, I have been honored to be part of the HIV IPE interprofessional curriculum centered around the disparities seen among individuals living with HIV and how to optimally care for these patients on an interprofessional team. Also, I am currently working on extra curriculum on how to be a responsive clinician to patients in groups that have been historically neglected in medicine, such as rural areas, people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ communities.

I am not sure what specialty or field I want to work in yet, but I have a particular liking to Women's Health, Infectious Disease and Primary Care. In the future and after my training, I hope to practice in an area of need that caters to those disadvantaged by the current health system.

4. Who would you like to thank from CHS?

I’d like to thank both my mentors Dr. DeShana Collett and Dr. Brandi White for being excellent examples of pioneers who push to better their communities. I’d also like to thank the staff in the Office of Student Affairs in CHS. In undergrad, they emailed me opportunities, wrote me letters of recommendations, and had many talks with me about the future — and as a first-generation student, they were the only guidance I had. They guided me well.

Beyond that, I want to thank my professors and the Class of 2023 UKPA for being my family in this hectic time. Without them and their support, I wouldn't know what to do. 

5. Lastly, what would you say to a prospective student who is thinking of going down a similar road?

If I could say anything to a prospective student, I would say don’t be afraid to ask for help, advice and guidance.

Beyond that, it is important to speak up when you see things that need to be changed. Through the good and the bad, I had a great experience in my program and to those after me: Be you and be you boldly — because you do deserve to be here.

The words of Maya Angelou said it best:

“Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.”