UCSF Job Training Program Transforms Lives and Strengthens Community

By Juliana Bunim

Rhea Spate

Rhea Spate

Rhea Spate first encountered UCSF eight years ago when a helicopter swept her son from Clearlake to the medical center at the Parnassus campus for an emergency procedure.

As doctors and nurses rushed to save his life, Spate realized she wanted to be like all of the UCSF employees she encountered – kind, compassionate and dedicated.

But her path to work at UCSF wasn’t as quick as that helicopter ride -- it took several turns along the way including years of drug abuse and episodes of homelessness before she entered the Walden House, a local drug and alcohol treatment center.

It was at the Walden House where Spate first saw the flier for UCSF’s Community Outreach and Internship Program (COIP), which recruits and trains low-income jobseekers for quality employment in administrative roles within the UCSF system.

Spate grabbed the flier and caught the last 10 minutes of the meeting, which was enough time to recognize an opportunity to truly turn her life around.

COIP is designed to give adults with little to no work experience the tools to thrive in a work environment through skill development and training. It’s part of UCSF’s strong commitment to strengthening the community by promoting civic engagement, fostering community health and well-being and enhancing the environment for education, research, employment and patient care at UCSF.

Working in collaboration with the community-based training partner Jewish Vocational Services, COIP prepares participants for employment by providing a large scope of training activities. After a two week assessment process, the applicants spend 10 weeks completing hard and soft skill training which includes computer classes, interview techniques and basic job training. They also receive regular training seminars during placement and participate in a mentorship program with employee mentors at UCSF.

Armed with a new found skill set, the participants are placed in a clerical/administrative internship within UCSF departments both on the campus and in the medical center. Spate completed her internship in the Department of Neurology, doing clerical work and filing, and excelled.

'Like a Dream Come True'

All of her hard work and dedication was paying off and Spate finally got her wish: she was hired as a full-time clinical coordinator at the Memory and Aging Center at UCSF.

“I had so many doubts because of my past, but I had so much support through the program that I knew I could do it,” she said. “It’s like a dream come true from where I come from. But one thing I never gave up was that glimmer of hope, even when I lost everything.”

Spate just celebrated her six-month anniversary at the Memory and Aging Center, where she is responsible for scheduling MRI’s, sleep studies and appointments in addition to running the clinic once a week.

“Rhea is just a joy,” said Shirley Reeder, her direct supervisor. “This is a challenging place to work, and the longer you’re here the more you become aware of the needs of patients and you’re constantly trying to accommodate doctors, attendings, rotators, patients, patients’ families and she’s always wanting to do more and to grow and learn. She knows how she wants to do things, and implements new ways of getting things done for our group with suggestions.”

Reeder says she was immediately struck by Spate’s enthusiasm and determination when she started at the Memory and Aging Center, which works with patients with cognitive problems including Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

“I saw someone who was trying to help themselves and had a very strong work ethic,” said Reeder. “She takes on tasks and responsibility and it doesn’t matter what you ask her to do, she’s more than willing to take it on and do it.”

In recognition of her hard work and success in the workplace, Spate is being honored on April 11 at JVS’s annual Strictly Business Awards as one of four recipients of the employee of the year award.

“As the second largest employer in San Francisco, we are only as strong as the City and people who surround us,” said Barbara J. French, vice chancellor for Strategic Communications and University Relations. “Rhea’s success in COIP reflects UCSF’s ongoing commitment to strengthening the local community while finding valuable employees that help our hospitals thrive.”

Spate is just one of many success stories from the program. Last year, 16 of the 20 participants that were offered an internship position completed the entire internship and graduated from the program. Of those graduates, 12 were hired as temporary employees by their host department. All of the graduates continue to receive support from JVS as they complete their job searches and embark on a new career.  

A new cycle of the COIP begins in early May. UCSF is looking to place participants into internships starting June 30. For more information about the program, contact Damon Lew at [email protected]

Photos by Susan Merrell

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