Providence congratulates the first graduating class from the Community Health Worker Academy

In July 2021, the first cohort of 11 community health workers (CHWs) graduated from the Community Health Worker Academy, a pilot program developed in partnership between Providence Little Company of Mary and Charles R. Drew University School of Medicine and Science (CDU) with support from Cedars Sinai Medical Center and the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, California Community Reinvestment Grants Program.

The CHW Academy is a workforce development program designed to create long-term job placements for CHWs in clinical settings. CDU developed a standards-based curriculum, with assistance from Providence and its existing CHWs, which they use to train clinically-based CHWs over a 5-week period. They also provide continuing education sessions to strengthen the interns’ care management skills. Providence recruits hospital and community clinic partners for the job placements, recruits CHWs for the Academy, manages their 6-month, paid internship experience, with particular attention to mentoring and coaching the CHWs while they are in their field placement site.  Providence also provides ongoing technical assistance to clinics and hospitals to successfully integrate CHWs into the health care team.

CHWs are community members who typically work or volunteer within community-based organizations to provide a host of different services, including, health education, advocating for health needs, system navigation support, and more. More recently, CHWs have been recognized as valuable members of clinical care teams that act as a familiar, trustworthy source of help for patients.

“Today, international bodies and global non-profits, federal and state agencies, national news platforms, academic institutes, and providers recognize the unique qualities, competency, skills, and trusting relationships that CHWs have with communities,” said Denise Octavia Smith, MBA, CHW, PN, Founding Executive Director of the National Association of Community Health Workers (NACHW) via recorded message at the cohort’s graduation.

The CHW model is particularly valuable and effective because CHWs are able to leverage their ability to relate with members of their community to support health care goals and reduce disparities in care. They play a critical role in improving access to health care, especially within underserved communities, but they typically do not have access to formal training or opportunities for further career development in the health care industry; this pilot program aims to change that.

This pilot program, which started in January 2021, will train, empower, and inspire two cohorts of interns with a hybrid of both online and onsite training. Cohort 1 worked with six different clinic and hospital organizations and provided over 7,500 people with access to services and programs. These health partners include Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Dignity Health Northridge Hospital Medical Center, Harbor Community Health Center, San Fernando Community Health Center and multiple sites across Providence.

Juan Mendez, Manager of Community Health at Providence played a key role in working with CDU to launch this pilot program. Juan shares, “CDU, Providence, and health care organizations across Los Angeles deeply believe in the CHW Academy. The integration of CHWs in clinical settings is crucial to improving the patient experience. The CHW Academy has helped students enhance their confidence working in a clinical setting while gaining an understanding that their unique contributions are important to patient’s health outcomes.”

Over 450 residents across Los Angeles submitted an interest form to apply for this pilot program. Providence conducted a rigorous application and interview process to fill the 26 internship spots for the first two cohorts. Upon completion of the Academy, ten of the interns have received full time positions either at their internship site or another community-based organization in Los Angeles County and one has decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree and was hired as a part time CHW at the college. With the graduation of the first cohort and training underway for the second cohort, there is much excitement about the potential for this program, both in terms of the expansion of career opportunities this could lead to for CHWs and also for increased capacity to serve our communities.    

Speaking about the impact of this program, graduate Tiffany Burnett shared, “I’ve grown a lot with my confidence in talking to patients… I’m so grateful I had this experience!”

To learn more about the Community Health Worker Academy, please contact Providence’s CHW Academy Manager, Rosalva Salazar at To learn more about the other investments Providence is making in communities around the world, please check out our Annual Report to our Communities.