SJSU Receives $3.4 Million Grant to Broaden and Build Health Care Workforce

by | May 28, 2024 | Community Engagement, Featured, Research and Innovation

The $3.4 million grant from the Department of Health Care Access and Information (HCAI) will help SJSU “Broaden and Build the Northern CA Health Care Workforce.” Photo by James Tensuan.

The health care workforce in California is in desperate need of new employees, and San José State University is, as always, committed to reaching out to underserved and diverse populations to find the next generation of leaders in every field. So when the opportunity arose to combine these issues into a win-win proposition, the College of Health and Human Sciences (CHHS) embraced it. 

The resulting program, called “Broaden and Build the Northern CA Health Care Workforce,” just received a nearly $3.4 million grant from the Department of Health Care Access and Information (HCAI). “Broaden and Build,” the culmination of several ideas from CHHS chairs and directors, will “create low-risk/high-yield pathways for first-generation students to enter into a diverse range of health professions.” Outreach will primarily target high school students, but the program is also open to anyone looking to start an undergraduate degree with a potential interest in health care careers, especially those serving rural or other under-resourced communities.

“The SJSU Director of nursing regularly reminds us that there’s a dire need for nurses and certified nursing assistants,” Grzywacz says. “This grant will directly impact that shortage while also recognizing that a lot of first-generation college students confront the very real question of whether the financial investment in their degree is worth the amount they’re going to earn when all is said and done. This program is one way of offsetting that.”

“We are thrilled to be awarded this significant HCAI grant to support students and address the critical workforce needs in the U.S.,” says Audrey Shillington, dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences. “This grant will alleviate the financial burden for aspiring healthcare professionals, allowing them to focus on their studies and training. This initiative represents a vital step towards improving healthcare access and quality, fostering a new generation of skilled and compassionate caregivers committed to serving underserved communities.”

A foot in the door

The first stage of the grant will focus on outreach and training. First, representatives from SJSU (school and department representatives and peer mentors) will travel to high-need regions, focusing on rural and health professional shortage areas (HPSAs), to speak to students about all the opportunities in health care education and careers.

One such opportunity will be a free six-week training to become a certified nurse assistant (CNA). The training is online and open to everyone enrolled in the “Broaden and Build” program, while experiential learning occurs in facilities around the state. If students qualify and pass the certification test after the training sessions, they can work as CNAs while earning their undergraduate degrees.

This is another win-win; the new CNA graduates are able to work to help benefit the community, all while earning money (roughly $40,000 a year) to offset their tuition and getting their first taste of a health care career, a high-impact learning experience similar to some used before in CHHS. Grzywacz is quick to say that they’re not expecting all the students participating to become nurses; they may discover they prefer public health, for example, or dietetics or kinesiology. But the CNA certification is a foot in the door. 

As he explains, “CHHS’s goal is to create a pipeline to the health professions. A lot of our students recognize that they want to help people, but the only way that they tend to think about that is in the very specific clinical realms of nursing. This grant was really set up to help people get started so that they have the opportunity to earn and explore different alternatives before they commit to one wholeheartedly.”

Training more health care professionals

The CNA training will be run by ProCareer Academy, an SJSU partner, with SJSU faculty occasionally participating in training and connecting with each cohort. The hope is that several recruited and newly-minted CNAs will begin their undergraduate careers at SJSU after they’re certified, earning money while taking classes toward a degree. The plan is to produce roughly 110 CNAs a year, and they’re hoping that over the grant’s five years, they can get at least 100 of the recruited CNAs into SJSU health care programs. 

By reaching into rural and HPSA communities, “Broaden and Build” also hopes to educate students who can then bring their newfound health care knowledge and careers back home into their local communities, which may have an even greater need for health care professionals.

Expanding the grant

As of now, the grant is comprised of this CNA program outreach and recruitment, but CHHS chairs and directors hope to expand it, ideally including scholarships for studying health care at SJSU as well as peer mentoring, established faculty mentors for undergraduates, and paid internships at community health care organizations. 

With this grant, Grzywacz says, CHHS hopes to “create a nice seamless transition from one thing to the next” for eligible students. “We don’t want people working an obscene amount of hours; we want them to enjoy their college experience,” he explains. “But at the same time, we also realize that they need some scaffolding, too. They need support. And so that’s part of what this program is about.”

On a personal level, Grzywacz adds, it also felt “fabulous” to receive this significant grant. “As a first-generation college kid, I remember working my way through school when tuition was $650 for 13 credits, and I lived at home,” he says. “It’s a lot harder for young people today, so I’m all for anything we can do to support first-generation college students and help them get a degree without taking too much of a financial risk. That’s what I’m most excited about.”

Keep up with the exciting new initiatives and programs from the College of Health and Human Sciences.