Cynthia Perez-Vaughan immigrated to the United States with her family from Latin America over 20 years ago. She completed her Bachelor’s in Communications from San Francisco State University. Cynthia lived in the Bay Area and then Los Angeles for years working in the Spanish media, where she reported on stories related to health, immigration, and other topics affecting the Spanish-speaking community in the U.S. while also fine-tuning her ability to connect with individuals through interviews.
After returning to the Bay Area, she started working at HealthFirst in 2008 as a patient service representative, serving as a receptionist at the front desk and helping with administrative tasks. Cynthia fell in love with the program and decided to get her certificate from San Francisco City College to become a Community Health Worker (CHW). “Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to work in health care,” says Cynthia. In 2010, Cynthia became a certified CHW and, in 2011 when a spot opened up at HealthFirst, she applied and got the position.
“Working at HealthFirst opened my eyes to focusing on my own health and the health of my family,” says Cynthia. Since working at HealthFirst, Cynthia has taken serious action towards improving her own health. Using the programs at HealthFirst, specifically the well-balanced plate plan, Cynthia was able to lose 32 pounds. After she began to lose weight and with the encouragement of a friend, she began to train for the San Francisco Half Marathon and completed the race in less than 3 hours – something she never thought possible before HealthFirst. Patients that have been with HealthFirst have seen Cynthia’s transformation first hand and often ask how she did it. “Knowing that diabetes runs in my family has inspired me to make lifestyle changes, but also the patients at HealthFirst have inspired me to make lifestyle changes,” Cynthia says. “I have to practice what I preach.”
Cynthia’s personal transformation has allowed her to connect at a deeper level with patients during their coaching sessions. She says that since she is bi-lingual and familiar with the cultural norms of the community HealthFirst serves, she is able to make patients feel more at ease and share information with them that they might not be able to get elsewhere. Cynthia also says that her perspective as an immigrant, as someone with a family history of addiction and diabetes, as well as her health transformation, allow her to relate to patients and motivate them to make changes in their own health. Cynthia is still focused on portion control and exercise to continue to lose weight and improve her health while reducing her risk of disease.