Employment Earn while you learn program at U.Va. Health is expanding its scope to include more opportunities for non-English speaking participants as well as training for additional health care positions. First implemented in February, the program offers members of the Charlottesville community the opportunity to start a healthcare career without a college degree or previous healthcare experience.
The program received $50,000 to agree from Truist Foundation last month to include opportunities for non-native English speakers. The Truist Foundation partners with nonprofits like U.Va. Health to support excluded and underserved communities.
Beth Mehring, Earn While You Learn program manager, said this development since February has been extremely rapid and has involved debunking healthcare myths throughout the process, as people often think they need to have a lot of experience in the health care field, or they don’t think of applying to U.Va Health as a career option.
“In a way, we’re kind of building the plane as we fly,” Mehring said. “We learned how we best meet the needs of the community and how we can better fit into the [Charlottesville] community to help understand their needs.
Currently, the program includes training for Pharmacy Technicians, Emergency Medical Technicians, Certified Practical Nurses, Phlebotomists, and Certified Physician Assistants. More than 40 program participants began training in the various programs this summer, while upcoming fall classes include more than 65 new trainees.
Abdulalkarim Awwad, a pharmacy technician program participant and former CVS employee, began training this summer and explained the appeal of working for a system like U.Va. Health.
“U.Va. hospital is this huge teaching place,” Awwad said. “I couldn’t say no.”
Awwad’s experiences in healthcare at U.Va. His health prompted him to return to school in the future to pursue a career as a medical assistant.
“The educational programs they put me in were spectacular,” Awwad said. “Working in a pharmacy, especially working at U.Va. Hospital, kind of made me realize how much I love medicine.
Awwad said that based on what he learned from U.Va. Health and his interactions with other techs, he highly recommends the program to anyone considering a career in medicine, even if pharmacy isn’t what they plan to do forever.
Veronica Desper, U.Va. Director of Outpatient Pharmacy Technician, said people who had not considered healthcare as their first job choice in the past were also attracted to the program, which increased the total number of applicants. .
“It attracts a lot of applicants,” Desper said. “The only increase in our applicant pool was a sure win.”
Due to growing interest in the program, Mehring and others involved with the program looked for ways to expand. The new grant from the Truist Foundation will allow them to bring their ideas to life.
“A portion of this grant will be used to help support outreach and marketing,” Mehring said. “We want people to keep coming and helping share the opportunity.”
Planned extensions to the program include the training of technicians in sterile treatment and surgical scrub, as well as participants in radiology, nursing and paramedical training. The expansion also includes plans for those who will eventually work toward two-year degree programs, such as respiratory therapy.
Mehring explained that key entry point roles outside of the program are also an important potential area for expansion. Entry roles in Nutrition Services and Environmental Services could help non-English speaking participants develop their language skills. After being exposed to the English language in these roles, participants could begin training under the Earn While You Learn program.
The other part of the grant will go towards building the program to help program candidates develop English as a second language. Piedmont Virginia Community College will collaborate with U.Va. Health to achieve this through its Network 2 Work program, which helps with language development.
“We want to be able to not only get someone through the door, but help them advance in written and spoken language so they can advance their career once they get here,” Mehring said. .
Mehring told U.Va. Health recognizes that internationally displaced people, such as refugees, also need opportunities once they arrive in the region. She hopes they can also benefit from the program and its constant expansions.
Both Mehring and Desper explained that the program doesn’t just benefit the U.Va. The health system and the community, but also the patients, because a stable staff allows more efficient patient care.
“I think things will continue to evolve at a very rapid pace,” Mehring said. “We continue to build relationships, and it’s been great collective growth.”