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Service & Impact
January 9, 2024

Purpose from the Pain

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To help people with limited resources access the health care they need, Mikeshaya Edwards worked with a wireless service company to provide free Wi-Fi hot spots making telehealth appointments possible. It’s just one of the ways the young health executive has sought to improve services for minority communities in Riverside County, California.
At 33, she was recently appointed executive leader of operations and compliance at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, the youngest person and the first African American to be named to the role at the 605-bed hospital that is part of Tenet Healthcare. Starting out as an office assistant eight years ago, Edwards has risen to her leadership position through an inspiring journey that earned her inclusion in Success magazine’s 2020 “Most Influential Leaders” list.
Her mission was born out of personal heartache. Her fraternal twin sister, Shona (their similarities “fooled a couple of teachers” when they were at school) and their younger sister, Yvonia, were killed in an accident when the two were driving to visit Edwards at California State University, Monterey Bay, where she was on a basket-ball scholarship.
Acknowledging the special connection twins often have, Edwards (who goes by Shaya) recalls how she experienced “a strong blow to my heart, like someone just punched me” at the time of the fatal crash, though she did not learn what had happened until some hours later. “It was a feeling I’ll never be able to forget.”
The outpouring of appreciation for the two at their funerals made an impact. Hearing her twin described as someone who had made a difference in people’s lives “really shook something in me,” she says. “It just made me think, ‘Hey, do I just want to be remembered as the other twin?’ I decided I wanted to make a little bit more impact in this world.”
“When patients are coupled with physicians that share their same ethnic background, they’re a
little bit more comfortable.”
Making changes
The loss of her siblings sparked a process of transformation. Instead of coasting through school, as she had been doing, Edwards realized she needed to take charge of her future. The first step was reassessing where she was, where she wanted to go and what it was going to take to get there. Having previously envisaged a job in retail, “after my sisters passed away, it just seemed a fitting role to be in health care. I really wanted to be in a profession where I impacted people in their most vulnerable state.”
Next, she had to “change my community.” That meant swapping friends who were less ambitious and seeking out people who wanted to make a difference. She began volunteering with different groups, like the weekly campus cleanup crew, that brought her into contact with people who offered to help. They “started mentoring me, helping me change my vocabulary; I used a lot of slang. They showed me how to dress when I’m walking into rooms… being the representation that typically isn’t in a room, showing me how to act so that I’d be accepted and respected in those rooms.”
Coming from a church-going family, her faith was an important element of her change. “During those times of difficulty where some doors didn’t open, having my religion and reading those scriptures gave me the motivation to keep going.”
Here she emphasizes how determination and discipline don’t mean there won’t be setbacks along the way. “I had several failures; at one point in time I applied for, like, 20 jobs and didn’t get one. I applied for maybe 15 interviews and never got any. Those were times where I felt like I just wanted to quit.” A favorite Bible verse was a boost in such moments: “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
In addition to improving access to health care for minorities, one of Edwards’ emphases has been bettering diversity and inclusion in the health workforce. “It’s important for all ethnic groups to be able to see some sort of representation,” she says. “The data has shown that when patients are coupled with physicians that share their same ethnic background, they’re a little bit more comfortable in sharing their diagnosis, a little bit more comfortable in sharing their practices,” which leads to better health outcomes. Currently, she says, it’s getting harder for
some people of color to get access to health care—hence the hot spot initiative, among others—and there’s also a rise in their death rate.
Having decided to go into healthcare, Edwards pursued further education to broaden her career opportunities. Graduating from the University of La Verne with a degree in movement and sports science education (after switching from Cal State), she followed that up with two master’s—leadership and organizational studies and an MBA—from California Baptist University, where she was valedictorian.
Building bridges
Edwards’ self-development is ongoing. Her morning routine is designed to prepare for another day of growth. First, she hits her Spotify playlist of Gospel favorites (including lots of Kirk Franklin) for some motivation. After showering and dressing, it’s time to make her bed: “That sets a routine in my head of structure and process.”
On the drive to work she’ll listen to podcasts or an audiobook from the likes of Hollywood producer Devon Franklin and preacher T.D. Jakes. “No music; it’s my time to zone in and really get my mind ready for the day.” In addition, she also aims to read two to three books a month, mostly self-development and leadership.
Hoping her example might motivate other young people to dream bigger, Edwards speaks to nonprofits and church groups. “I want to influence, inspire and encourage other young minority millennials about the difficulties and struggles of climbing the corporate ladder, as well as staying the course when met with adversity.”
She has some advice for those starting out on a career path who think that employers should just take them as they are. “Any individual or young person who is trying to be 100% ‘authentically me,’ they’re probably never going to get anywhere in life,” she says. “You have to structure yourself for the particular environment to really get to where you need to go.”
That’s not an unhealthy thing, she adds, it’s wisdom. “It helps you to be able to talk and interact with people who don’t look like you. Sometimes young people only want to be involved with people who look like us, dress like us, act like us. But if you want to get anywhere in life, it requires partnerships and sometimes it’s going to require partnerships with people who don’t look like you.”
In addition to her career track, Edwards has turned her attention to investing. She has built two rental properties (which have Shona’s and Yvonia’s names in the cement in front of the house and their photos in the entranceways) and wants to build a motel to provide accommodation for traveling nurses that come to her hospital. Her investment efforts were sparked by recognizing that many older people in her community didn’t have what they needed to be financially secure in their later years. “I decided that I had to make a difference or be the difference.”
Luis Orozco was a strong advocate for me. He was health care administrator for Riverside County, the first male Latino to hold the position, and he really set the way for putting me in rooms that I don’t think I’d be invited to in normal practice. He showed me different books to read and continuously motivated me when I felt like giving up.
My mother, Sheila Johnson, was a very strong advocate of my goals and aspirations. She helped with the religious aspect of my life, keeping me motivated, through scriptures, praying a lot with me, wiping away a lot of my tears through some of my failures. I remember one time I was crying because I didn’t get a job. She said, “You can cry for two minutes and that’s it. But after that, get right back up and keep going.”
This article was originally published in the Summer 2023 issue of WayMaker Journal.