The future physician’s assistant is passionate about caring for underserved populations

Lucas França grew up in Brazil and saw a disparity between the healthcare offered to public and private sectors in the large South American country. When he moved to the United States in 2013, he was surprised to find a similar healthcare environment.

“As a foreigner, I had this vision that everything would be really better here since it’s a first-world country,” he said.

França witnessed there are haves and have-nots when it comes to access and quality of healthcare in Idaho, and he’s made it a goal to work with underserved populations whenever possible.

França is studying to be a physician’s assistant (PA) at Idaho State University. He received a scholarship funded by the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health that is given to students at ISU to get clinical hours working in rural Idaho. He’s currently doing rotations with Terry Reilly Health Services in Caldwell, Melba and Nampa.

“The clinics serve a population that is very at-risk, including farm workers that don’t have insurance and many speak little to no English,” França said. “Many of these people are overlooked and don’t have the access to healthcare.”

Paula Phelps is the associate director of the physician assistant studies program at Idaho State. She is wowed by everything França has accomplished. He is on track to graduate in early August.

“In all my 28 years of being a PA faculty at ISU and teaching more than 1,200 PA students, I truly have never met any other student who has worked so hard while in PA school to provide primary care service for the local farm workers and their community,” Phelps said. “I can attest to how he genuinely desires to work in a rural underserved area where he can utilize his Spanish language and intimate first-hand knowledge of the Latinx culture.”

Franca speaks Portuguese, Spanish and English. He didn’t know Spanish when he moved to the U.S. but learned the language through undergraduate classes and television shows. He fortified his Spanish by enrolling in the Latino Health Track (LHT) at Idaho State, which requires him to take an additional 15 credit hours and complete five clinical rotations in a predominantly Spanish-speaking area to earn a graduate certificate in Spanish for the Health Professions (SHP). He’s also an Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) scholar, which is for healthcare students who would like to take a deeper dive into learning about aspects of rural health. He is the only student in his class of 72 who is both an AHEC and LHT scholar.

“In addition to a very rigorous PA student workload, AHEC scholar classes, and SHP classes, he also volunteered regularly at the remote rural site of the Pocatello Free Clinic that mainly serves Mexican farm workers in the American Falls area,” Phelps said. “This was above and beyond anything required of him for school or the AHEC program or SHP graduate certificate. He is extremely hard working and dedicated to the welfare of Latinx patients and their families.”

Said França, I fell in love with the population we saw, and that’s when I decided what I wanted to do.”

Prior to attending PA school, França graduated from BYU-Idaho and majored in biomedical science. While attending school, he worked as a caregiver at a nursing home in St. Anthony where he discovered the type of role he wanted. At the time, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to become a specialist or a family physician.

“The PAs and nurse practitioners get to see patients, and that’s how I found the passion I had for interacting and serving with them,” he said. “I knew I wanted to be involved in all aspects of care. I like the idea of developing relationships and see their health improve.”

After graduation, he hopes to continue practicing in a rural, underserved area.

“We love it here,” França said.