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Chico State

Healing the Gap: Alumna Aims to Empower Latinx Community

Claudia Ruiz wears a two-piece burgundy suit and pink blouse as she is photographed in the School of Nursing's state-of-the-art simulation center on campus.
(Jason Halley / University Photographer)

Raised in a migrant labor camp in Gridley, Claudia Ruiz says her path to success was not lined with examples of people who looked like her. Now a physician with Kaiser Permanente, she has dedicated her career and life to opening doors and being of service to Latinos—who represent nearly 40 percent of California’s population but only 6 percent of doctors and 8 percent of medical school students in the state.

Ruiz (Nursing, ’05) is one of the lead physicians who helped establish Kaiser’s Salud en Español bilingual clinic in downtown Sacramento. There, she regularly sees Spanish-speaking patients and spends extra time helping them by breaking down language, literacy, or technology barriers that get in the way of their well-being. 

“My work has always been dedicated to helping the Latino community,” Ruiz said. “I know there is a need for more Latino representation in medical schools and for health care providers who are proficient in Spanish.”

There are many obstacles in the health care system that some populations face, Ruiz said. Things like relying on online messaging to get information to patients may not work for everyone.

“I modify my care and accommodate my patients with what works for them,” she said. “It feels like I’m caring for family.”

Ruiz began developing her sense of purpose and work ethic at a young age. As the second oldest of nine children, she helped care for her siblings while her parents toiled in the fields and orchards. She remembers how hard all the immigrants in her community had to work for a better life. It served as the fuel to drive her to succeed at Chico State.

“I am becoming the person I wished I had known growing up.”

Claudia Ruiz (Nursing, ’05)

“It motivated me to do well and be better,” she said. “[My parents] had to do backbreaking farm work, and I’m studying for exams, which is nothing. I would put it in perspective and keep that in mind.”

Her father, Gabriel Ruiz, also inspired her to pursue her studies. The elder Ruiz earned a bachelor’s in business administration in 1989, when Claudia was 6 years old. He is now a financial accountant and owns Ruiz Financial Services. 

“I watched him go from the fields to learning English to then going to Chico State,” she said. “I remember going to the (graduation) ceremony and everybody was wearing these gowns, and it looked so magical. It showed to me that you can accomplish something huge.”

Claudia and her father weren’t the only members of the Ruiz family to find success after Chico State. Eight of the nine siblings earned degrees from the University and have established careers, including two who became attorneys.

After graduating from Chico State, Ruiz earned her doctorate from Drexel University’s College of Medicine and completed her residency at the Los Angeles General Medical Center (formerly LAC + USC Medical Center).

In addition to her work at the clinic, Ruiz finds time for her other passion, a life-coaching business. Claudia Wellness & Empowerment Lifestyle was inspired by what she saw as a need for more representation of successful Latinas and the bonds she formed as a member of Chico State’s Latina sorority, Lambda Theta Nu.

“The lack of Latina role models in powerful positions growing up made me doubt my abilities,” she said. “I am becoming the person I wished I had known growing up.”