New health tech job training program addresses needs of low-income San Franciscans in Visitacion Valley

By Corinna Kaarlela

A new job education program in San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley will reach a
milestone this Friday, August 11, when its first class is graduated in a
special ceremony.

Called HealthTech/Gateway to Health Careers, the program is designed for
unemployed and low-income adults of the Visitacion Valley neighborhood and
focuses on training in health technology fields, career counseling, and job

The idea for the program began two years ago with a group of UCSF family
practice residents (doctors in specialty training) at San Francisco General
Hospital Medical Center.  As part of their medical education curriculum, the13
residents were encouraged to work together to develop a project that integrates
health care with the community.  Their early vision evolved into reality
through a series of partnerships with other city agencies and institutions.

The residents developed a step-by-step plan for setting up an effective
training program, contacted existing organizations about getting involved, then
secured grant support to fund the project.  The program is free to students,
and it provides them with stipends and transportation.

In addition to UCSF and the SFGHMC Department of Family and Community Medicine,
the collaborating organizations are Visitacion Valley Jobs, Education, and
Training (VVJET), Jewish Vocational Service (JVS), City College, and the
Community Health Network, San Francisco’s integrated health care delivery

Organized in three phases, HealthTech/Gateway is a training program for several
allied health positions—nursing assistant, home health aide, emergency medical
technician, unit clerk, health information technologist, and EKG technician. 
At this week’s event, 29 graduates, ages 19 to 61, will be honored with
certificates for completing phase one of the program, which introduced them to
health careers and covered job readiness, interpersonal skills, and preparation
for academic coursework at City College.  Students have attended classes five
days a week since mid-May.  Now they will continue their training in phase two
of the program by enrolling in health technology courses for the fall semester
at City College.  In phase three, students will be assisted in career planning
and in their search for employment.

Among those graduating is Sharon Hill, in her mid-30s and a resident of
Visitacion Valley for several years.  She thinks the program is one of the best
things she has seen happen in the district. 

Other community programs have presented skills classes on subjects like math
and English, but this was more, she said.  “This was not just a class, but a
program that provided the full picture of the choices in health careers and
entry into an organized training track.”  Her goal now is to be employed in a
health technology job in a year.

Hill said she had been thinking about getting into the health field for the
past few years but wasn’t sure of the best route or the right job.  One aspect
of the program that helped her focus was “job shadowing,” in which students
could link-up with health staffers at their job site to see what they really

Colleen Townsend, MD, who was part of the group that developed the program and
now is chief resident in family and community medicine at SFGHMC, emphasized
that the UCSF residents may have put the framework for HealthTech/Gateway
together, but the right mix of resources already existed. 

At the core of the program are VVJET and JVS.  An established job training
program in the community, VVJET has operated a successful job training program
since 1996 focusing on the construction field.  It was open to expanding to
include health careers and provided a respected link to neighborhood
residents.  JVS had extensive experience in providing job readiness and skills
upgrading program. 

“These two groups folded together perfectly for the enrollment and job training
phase of the program,” said Bob Bellerose, who now serves as a
HealthTech/Gateway supervisor with coordinator Monique Green.  “The goal of
this program is to educate, place, and support a group of Visitacion Valley
residents in a health care related profession that pays a living wage. Now with
this first graduation event, we think we are on our way.”

In the spring of 1998, this week’s celebration was still a long way off when
the family practice residents first came together to discuss their project. 
Exploring a variety of ideas, they knew they wanted to target a community in
need.  Discussion with community leaders identified Visitacion Valley as a
neighborhood with one of the highest rates of unemployment and poverty in the

“Unemployment was repeatedly named as the largest barrier to self sufficiency
and good health, so we began to focus on a job-training program that could lead
to good-paying jobs that would help overcome these barriers,” said Townsend. 
“Our ultimate goal was to develop a program that would improve the well being
of Visitacion Valley through improved economic stability.”
“As health care providers, what did we know about job training?  Not much,
but we did now the importance of allied health jobs in the patient care
setting, so we began piecing together the logical steps in a job training
program,” she said.

Because of their own concentrated schedules in medical education, the residents
worked on developing the program in cycles.  Three residents would meet one
afternoon each week for three months, then a new three-some would pickup and
continue the work for the next cycle.

Funding for HealthTech/Gateway is provided by grants from the San Francisco
Foundation, Goldman Fund, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, California
Endowment Fund, and Private Industry Council.

Enrollment for the next HealthTech/Gateway training is expected to begin in
January 2001 with classes starting in March.  Interested persons should call