Student with disabilities helps others with disabilities

Alissa Patterson, Sanford Equity in Education Scholarship recipient, is studying social work

A Sanford Health employee in a wheelchair is surprised with a giant scholarship check from colleagues in the clinic.

Alissa Patterson was diagnosed with a rare disorder at age 12 that required her to use a wheelchair by the time she was 18. Since then she has inspired others via her actions and her words.

She has done this by serving as an example of overcoming her own disabilities and by taking an active role in improving the lives of others who are dealing with their own challenges.

In 2019, Patterson graduated from Northern State University with a degree in psychology and a 3.9 grade-point average. While in school she served as a peer mentor, helping students with disabilities and financial obstacles continue to pursue their education.

Resources for students: Explore scholarships and sponsorships from Sanford Health

It is why when this Sanford Health Equity in Education Scholarship winner says she is earning a master’s degree in social work in order to help people, it is a continuation of a career direction already well-established.

The Sanford Health Equity in Education Scholarship is a targeted financial scholarship program aiding underrepresented and traditionally underserved populations seeking higher education.

Award recipients must demonstrate exceptional character and leadership in furthering their own progress and in enriching the lives of others, especially in service, academics, and community involvement and impact.

It is much more than a collection of required qualities in Patterson’s case. It is how she lives her life.

“I have a physical disability so I think could really encourage people by sharing my story and showing them my success,” Patterson said.

Patterson is a patient access representative at Sanford Children’s in Bismarck. As such she sees children come in, sees them leave when they’re feeling better and makes follow-up appointments.

It’s rewarding seeing that healing up close, but she wants to do more.

“I’d like to be more hands-on,” she said. “I want to be able to help people who are in the hospital and might have feelings of hopelessness. I want to be able to show them that just because you have certain barriers, it doesn’t mean you can’t be successful because I have barriers, too. We can’t let that stop us.”

Patterson is now part of a board involving Sanford Health’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. It will give her yet another opportunity to send a message and set an example.

“My disability is a part of me,” she said. “But I don’t let it define me.”

Learn more

Posted In Bismarck, Children's, Inclusion at Sanford, Leadership in Health Care, Sanford Stories, Scholarships and Sponsorships