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U.Va. Health ‘Earn While You Learn’ Program Grows, Expands Opportunities – The Cavalier Daily

The earn while you learn work program at U.Va. Health is expanding its scope to include more opportunities for non-native English speaking participants as well as training for additional health care jobs. First of all implemented in February, the program provides an opportunity for members of the Charlottesville community to begin a career in health care without a college degree or previous health care experience.

The program received $50,000 grant of the Truist Foundation last month to include opportunities for non-native English speakers. The Truist Foundation works with nonprofit organizations such as U.Va. Health to support excluded and underserved communities.

Beth Mehring, head of the Earn While You Learn program, said this development since February has been extremely rapid and involves debunking health care myths throughout the process, as people often believe they need to have a lot of experience in health care, or they don’t think about applying to U.Va Health as a career option.

“In some ways, we build the airplane as we fly,” Mehring said. “We have learned how we can best meet the needs of the community and how we can best integrate into the community [Charlottesville] community to help understand its needs.”

Currently, the program includes training for pharmacy technicians, emergency medical technicians, certified nursing assistants, phlebotomists and certified medical assistants. More than 40 program participants began training in the various programs this summer, while the incoming fall classes include more than 65 new students.

Abdulalkarim Awwad, a pharmacy technician program participant and former CVS employee, began his training this summer and explained the appeal of applying to a system like U.Va. Health.

“U.Va. hospital is this great educational place,” Awwad said. “I couldn’t say no to that.”

Awwad’s experiences in health care at U.Va. Health inspired him to return to school in the future to pursue a career as a physician’s assistant.

“The educational programs they put me in were spectacular,” Awwad said. “Working at a pharmacy, especially working at U.Va. Hospital, kind of made me realize how much I enjoy medicine.”

Awwad said that based on what he learned at U.Va. Health and his interactions with other technicians, he highly recommends the program to anyone considering a career in medicine, even if pharmacy isn’t what they want to do forever.

Veronica Desper, U.Va. Manager of an outpatient pharmacy technician, said people who had not considered health care as their first choice of job in the past were also attracted to the program, increasing the overall number of applicants.

“It attracts a lot of applicants,” Desper said. “Just the increase in our applicant pool was a win for sure.”

Because of the growing interest in the program, Mehring and others involved in the program looked for ways to expand. The new Truist Foundation grant will enable them to put their ideas into action.

“Part of this grant will be used to help support outreach and marketing,” Mehring said. “We want to keep people coming in and help share the opportunity.”

Planned expansions for the program include training of technicians sterile processing and surgical scrub, as well as training participants in radiology, nursing and paramedics. The expansion also includes plans for those who eventually work toward two-year degree programs, such as respiratory therapy.

Mehring explained that key access point roles outside of the program are also an important potential area of ​​expansion. Entry roles in nutrition services and environmental services can help non-English speaking participants develop their language skills. After English language exposure in these roles, participants could begin training in 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 partner with U.Va. Health to achieve this through its Network 2 Work programme, which helps with language development.

“We want to be able to not only get someone through the door, but help them advance both written and verbal language so they can advance their career once they get here,” Mehring said.

Mehring said U.Va. Health recognizes that internationally resettled people, such as refugees, also need opportunities once they arrive in the area. She hopes that they too will be able to benefit from the program and its continuous expansions.

Both Mehring and Desper explained that the program not only benefits the U.Va. Health system and the community, but also patients, as stable staffing enables patients to be cared for more efficiently.

“I think things are going to continue to evolve at a very rapid pace,” Mehring said. “We continue to build relationships, and it’s been a huge collective growth.”

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