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Community Health Workers Complete Training for Potential Careers in Medicine

There was nothing but smiles as15 students recently graduated as new Community Health Workers during a ceremony at the Langan Allied Health Academy at Penn State Health St. Joseph’s Downtown Campus in Reading.

The graduating class was the 10th cohort to complete the 100-hour training program, a collaborative of Penn State Health St. Joseph, the East Central Pennsylvania Area Health Education Center (AHEC), the Literary Council of Reading-Berks and other local partners.

While in training, students study a variety of topics, including chronic diseases, behavioral health, tobacco cessation, healthcare access and reimbursement, first aid, and basic medical terminology. While some of the work occurs in the classroom, much of it is conducted in the field, as students are encouraged to be out in the community, learning about local resources, making contacts, and exploring what opportunities may be available to them.

Although the program is not set up as training for any particular position, completing it can help lead to a job, explained Laura M. Welliver, a Penn State Health St. Joseph Grants and Special Projects Officer who directs the Community Health Workers program. “It isn’t offered as a job training per se, but those who complete the program report that it really helps them with career change or advancement,” Welliver said. Ahely Espinosa Ramos of Reading said she hopes that graduating from the program will help her to find a job in which she can assist young mothers who are alone, a situation that she had experienced.

”I was that person who needed help and didn’t know anyone,” she said. “I’d love to be able to help someone else who is in that same situation.”

Sherian L. Henry of Spring Township has a background in teaching, but wanted to complete the Community Health Worker training in order to be a more effective helper in her community. “I really wanted to find a way to use my skills in the community,” Henry said. “Completing the program really opened my eyes to the opportunities that are out there.”

A Community Health Worker is defined by AHEC as a “trusted member of the community with a gift for helping people prevent or manage disease or other physical or mental health issues.”

Penn State Health St. Joseph hired Community Health Workers to assist with its Diabetes, Prenatal, Family Practice and Breast Cancer programs, explains Welliver. Graduates of the program also have been hired by agencies such as Berks Counseling Center and Centro Hispano. “It works well to have Community Health Workers in settings that require a lot of patient follow up or intensive case management,” Welliver said.

Since Penn State Health St. Joseph began the trainings nearly four years ago, more than 120 students have graduated. The group that graduated in December was one of the largest cohorts in the program’s history.

“It’s so exciting to see how this program has grown and the students have blossomed,” Welliver said. “There is a dramatic need for Community Health Workers in our community, and every one of these graduates can make a difference.”

Henry O. Mateo Mendoza, the only male to complete the training with this cohort, also is a student at Reading Area Community College and works a full-time job. While finding time for the training program was difficult, he said that having earned the designation of Community Health Worker is rewarding.

“I’ve been through a lot in my life, and if I can help someone with the skills that I’ve acquired, then that’s what I want to do,” said Mendoza, of Reading.

The Community Health Worker training program is offered at least twice a year, and there is no charge to participate. Anyone who would like more information can visit https://www.thefutureofhealthcare.org/community-health-worker-training/ or contact Laura Welliver at 610-378-2474
or lwelliver@pennstatehealth.psu.edu.

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