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Training program helps Portlanders find new careers in health care

Amid urgent shortages, AFSCME Local 328, OHSU, United We Heal, Unite Oregon partner to grow, diversify health care workforce
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Debbie Taira, dental assistant at the OHSU School of Dentistry, helps a dental patient at the OHSU School of Dentistry clinic in Portland. The Building Bridges to Health Care Careers job education and training program will help 86 Portland-area residents become dental assistants, nurse assistants, medical assistants or phlebotomists. Those who complete the program and earn certification in their new field will be given priority as applicants for job openings at Oregon Health & Science University. (OHSU/Christine Torres Hicks)
Debbie Taira, dental assistant at the OHSU School of Dentistry, helps a dental patient at the OHSU School of Dentistry clinic in Portland. The Building Bridges to Health Care Careers job education and training program will help 86 Portland-area residents become dental assistants, nurse assistants, medical assistants or phlebotomists. Those who complete the program and earn certification in their new field will be given priority as applicants for job openings at Oregon Health & Science University. (OHSU/Christine Torres Hicks)

A new program that aims to grow and diversify the health care workforce will provide 86 Portland-area residents free education and training — and possibly employment —  in four allied health fields. The effort is supported by a $3-million, three-year grant from the state’s Future Ready Oregon job education and training initiative, administered by the Higher Education Coordinating Commission.

Learn more at Building Bridges to Health Care Careers program public information sessions:

  • 4:30 – 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22, Oregon AFSCME office, 525 NE Oregon St., Room 520, Portland
  • 4:30 – 7:30 p.m. Feb. 29, Taborspace, 5411 SE Belmont St., Portland

The dental assisting section is currently accepting applicants online; click here to apply.

Those who complete the Building Bridges to Health Care Careers program and earn certification as nurse assistants, medical assistants, dental assistants or phlebotomists will be given priority as applicants for Oregon Health & Science University job openings in those fields. Amid a nationwide shortage of health care workers, OHSU frequently has many open positions in these fields, which are critical for patient care.

The program is the result of a unique partnership between AFSCME Local 328, OHSU, United We Heal and Unite Oregon. United We Heal, Oregon AFSCME’s health care training and development organization, received the Future Ready Oregon grant. OHSU will oversee the program’s education component, and the nonprofit Unite Oregon will lead community outreach with people of color or those of low economic means to encourage them to apply to the program.

Qiana Williams, Ed.S., ACC, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
Qiana Williams, Ed.S., ACC, SPHR, SHRM-SCP (Courtesy)

“Demand for health care and the professionals who provide that care is on the rise nationwide,” said OHSU Chief People Officer Qiana Williams, ACC-SHRM-SCP. “At the same time, too often members of BIPOC and lower income communities face numerous challenges that prevent them from increasing their own earning power. We created this program to both help more Oregonians receive quality health care, and to remove barriers that prevent many of our neighbors from pursuing careers in health care.”

Claire Irvan (Courtesy of Claire Irvan)
Claire Irvan (Courtesy)

“Our members and the communities which they are part of are a priority for our union,” said AFSCME Local 328 Treasurer Claire Irvan, who is also a financial coordinator for adult and pediatric bone marrow transplants at OHSU. “The program will provide support to the community while shaping the future by offering on-the-job training and education to those who wish to pursue careers in health care.”

Khanh Le
Khanh Le (Courtesy)

“United Oregon is thrilled to partner with OHSU, United We Heal and AFSCME Local 328,” said Unite Oregon Executive Director Khanh Le. “We are confident that our collective efforts will create equitable economic opportunities for BIPOC and lower-income communities. In addition, our collaboration on a program to diversify the health care system and address systemic inequalities within the industry is sure to yield positive results. This is an important step toward building a better health care system for all communities.”

Support for success

The program’s first educational term will begin this April, and the last student cohort will complete the program in February 2026. The effort aims to educate and train 86 individuals.

Participating in the program will require about 10 hours of time each week, enabling students to work while they study. In addition to covering educational and training costs, the program will also offer financial support to help students overcome social challenges that could otherwise prevent them from participating. For example, funding will be available to help cover costs related to transportation, housing, internet service, food, learning accessibility tools, technology and child care. The program will also match each participant with a mentor to help guide and support them during their learning journey.

Each of the program’s four field-specific sections will offer separate educational experiences. Dental and medical assisting educational sessions will span nine months, while nurse assisting and phlebotomy educational sessions will last six weeks. Program lessons will be taught online, although hands-on practice will require attending occasional in-person learning opportunities.

While any member of the public is encouraged to apply, program organizers particularly hope that current OHSU employees and AFSCME members will participate. AFSCME Local 328 represents more than 8,500 OHSU employees, including professionals who work in environmental services, pharmacy, grant writing, landscaping and information technology.

Those who are interested in the Building Bridges to Health Care Careers program are invited to attend a public information session:

  • 4:30 – 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22, Oregon AFSCME office, 525 NE Oregon St., Room 520, Portland
  • 4:30 – 7:30 p.m. Feb. 29, Taborspace, 5411 SE Belmont St., Portland

The dental assisting section is currently accepting applicants online; other sections will also be open for applications soon.

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