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Twenty graduates from Northwest Vista College (NVC) will begin to assist the City of San Antonio in its COVID-19 response next week. The graduates are certified community health workers who will gain practical, hands-on experience while supporting the city in minimizing the effects of COVID-19. They will work for the Metropolitan Health District as contact tracers, assisting in the operation of various testing sites located throughout the city and providing prevention and testing information to businesses, faith-based organizations, apartment complexes, and clinics throughout San Antonio.
This opportunity is made possible by a partnership between Northwest Vista College and the Metropolitan Health District. The college’s collaboration with Metro Health has been in place for over 10 years. Metro Health provides ongoing internships to NVC students enrolled in the college’s community health worker program.
As the coordinator of the community health worker program at NVC, I can attest to its quality. In 1998, I had the privilege to develop the program for NVC while serving as an administrator for outreach activities at Santa Rosa Health Care, now Christus Healthcare. Currently, there are 43 students enrolled in the Level 1 state certification program. Since 2004, nearly 500 NVC students have earned their community health worker certificate or associate degree in community health.
NVC has the only certified community health worker program in the city of San Antonio and the state that prepares students to navigate human and social service programs at the local, state, and federal levels. Graduates become well-versed educators in health literacy, nutrition, wellness, and health promotion. Emphasis is placed on developing trusting relationships with populations in Bexar County that have significant health disparities, poorer outcomes in health, and/or need help accessing resources. These can include seniors, individuals with disabilities, immigrants, low-income individuals, or those with language barriers.
The program uses a social work model rather than a clinical model to address the barriers and lack of access to achieving a healthy lifestyle. Factors such as income, education, housing, transportation, relationships, and neighborhood environments can influence up to 70 percent of the outcomes in health.
The job outlook for community health workers is on the rise. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, published in April 2020, the average growth rate for all occupations is 5 percent but for community health workers and educators it’s 11 percent.
With COVID-19 cases on the rise and nationwide focus to reduce health care costs and improve the U.S. population’s health overall, employment in this area will continue to be in high demand. The national median salary for community health workers is between $40,360 and $55,220 for health educators. The mean wage for community and social service occupations in Texas range between $41,360 and $43,060, according to Occupational Employment Statistics.
Those who choose to pursue community health and enroll at NVC are required to complete five courses plus an internship, which totals 17 credit hours and leads to a certificate in community health. Upon completion, students can continue their education toward an associate degree in community health. There are no prerequisites and students without a high school equivalency can enroll as continuing education students. The program also attracts health care professionals to gain an additional credential valuable in their clinical roles.
All students who complete the community health worker program at NVC obtain Texas state certification as a community health worker. New students can expect to complete all the certification requirements in six months.
Following state certification, NVC provides graduates of the program with free continuing education units (CEUs) so that they can maintain their state certification, requiring 20 hours of CEUs every two years. NVC alumni gain support from the program’s employment network, San Antonio Community Health Worker Association and the National Association of Community Health Workers.
Those interested in becoming a certified community health worker can contact me at 210-486-4382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.