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UCSF Workforce Development Program Helps Low-Income San Franciscans Move Toward Jobs in Health Care

EXCEL Training Program Teaches Critical Job Skills, Helps Fill Healthcare Staffing Needs in Bay Area

EXCEL Program Interns

Previous graduates of the EXCEL program. Photo by Susan Merrell

On Monday, November 16, 2015, 17 low-income San Franciscans, most cases on public assistance, will graduate from the Excellence through Community Engagement and Learning (EXCEL) program at UC San Francisco, and begin the next step along their path into the health care field.

EXCEL, a job skills program directed by UCSF in partnership with Jewish Vocational Services (JVS) and the City and County of San Francisco Human Services Agency (HSA)’s Wage Subsidy initiative, includes two parts. The first is a 10-week training in administrative and other critical job skills that provides students with the tools they need to join the healthcare workforce. The second is a four-month paid internship at UCSF, where the participants are able to utilize their new skills and gain additional experience. Upon graduation, most are placed in temporary or career jobs at UCSF or with other healthcare providers in the Bay Area.

As with previous EXCEL classes, the results for these new graduates have been dramatic. In the course of the approximately six-month program, the 17 students described moving from a feeling of trepidation and in some cases skepticism, to a sense of achievement and satisfaction for having mastered new skills and material.

“These participants have shown dedication and commitment to the EXCEL program, and we’re heartened to see the skills and experience they’ve gained,” said Damon Lew, assistant director of community relations for UCSF and director of the program. “EXCEL gives them the confidence that they can succeed and create a better future for themselves and their family.”

Sonya Johnson with family

EXCEL Program

Learn more about the EXCEL Internship Program, and hear how it's impacted the life of former graduate Sonya Johnson.

The candidates for the program were selected for their demonstrated desire to improve their lives, and a strong likelihood of success.

“We are very proud of this program, and believe deeply in its mission,” said Barbara French, Vice Chancellor for University Relations at UCSF. “The students we’re training have lacked the opportunity to get many of the essential skills one needs in today’s workforce – such as computer literacy, proficiency with grammar, and how to work in an office environment. They grow with their experiences and training – which in turn provides them with better opportunities for supporting themselves and their families, and helps UCSF and other

providers to meet the growing healthcare needs of our community.”  

A case in point is current graduate Ashley Tapaha, a 28-year-old mother of three young children who has been living in transitional housing since moving to San Francisco to escape a violent home situation. She was on CalWORKs when she heard about the EXCEL program, and says the program interested her because she had had some experience in the medical field but couldn’t get her “foot in the door.”

“My time with the EXCEL program has been life-changing,” said Tapaha. “The training taught me basic math and English skills as well as medical terminology, but also about cultural issues and beliefs – something I thought I understood, being Native American, but didn’t realize there was much more to learn. And the work during my internship has been new and awesome – I’m helping patients every day and always asking for more work. Now, I’m on a waiting list for an apartment and can imagine having a career and security for me and my family – something I had only dreamed about before.”

Another example is former graduate Dunenka Saleh, 26, a single mother of a two-year-old boy whose only job experience had been helping out at her mother’s café. Unemployed after giving birth to her son and living with her mother, Saleh joined the EXCEL program in 2014 and interned with UCSF’s Pediatric Diabetes clinic. From there she worked in the university’s temporary pool for a few months, until she landed a career position this past August with UCSF’s Urology Department as a New Patient Coordinator.

“The EXCEL program has made a monumental change in my life,” said Saleh. “In addition to teaching me basic skills – simple things like how to draft a professional-looking email – it also taught me many soft skills, like how to dress appropriately and how to present myself and make eye contact with patients and doctors. Now, I have a great job, getting to help people every day, and I’ve been able to get my own apartment and care for my child. And now that I have some stability, my mind has been opened to opportunities I didn’t see before – like going back to school.”

Though a precursor to EXCEL ran from 1998 - 2006, the current partnership is celebrating its fifth anniversary and will graduate EXCEL’s ninth class of students at the upcoming graduation.

Since its inception, EXCEL has graduated more than 140 low-income San Franciscans, with 81 percent being placed in either career or temporary positions with UCSF or with another healthcare employer in the Bay Area. Almost half the students are from the southeast sector of San Francisco – mainly Bayview/Hunter’s Point and Visitacion Valley – and nearly two-thirds are African American.

“Although the overall unemployment rate in San Francisco is quite low, people with limited education, work experience and skills – often people of color – face high barriers in joining the workforce,” said Abby Snay, executive director of JVS. “The EXCEL program has addressed a seemingly intractable problem and achieved remarkable success. It’s also helping to balance the scales – helping a population that has been largely marginalized to have a more equal role in our community and participate in its prosperity.”

“We’re delighted with our ongoing relationship with UCSF and JVS in operating this highly successful program,” said James Whelly, program manager with HSA’s JobsNOW. “UCSF is the second-largest employer in San Francisco, and this program is perhaps HSA’s best initiative in connecting public assistance recipients from disadvantaged neighborhoods to family-sustaining jobs in one our fastest-growing industry sectors. The EXCEL program proves that magic can happen when the missions of different agencies converge with a single purpose – to provide individuals with the training and opportunities they need to become self-sufficient.”

UCSF is a leading university dedicated to transforming health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. Founded in 1864 as a medical college, UCSF now includes top-ranked graduate schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy; a graduate division with world-renowned programs in the biological sciences, a preeminent biomedical research enterprise and top-tier hospitals, UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children's Hospitals.