Durham Tech aims to ‘close the gap’ in community healthcare

Instructor Erica Hall shares a quick laugh with her students as they learn about stress management. The course is aimed at teaching the future community health workers to help their clients--and the community itself--navigate issues related to healthcare. Students (left to right) include: Jasmine Myers, Charlita Jones and Kim Surles.

How many of the students here are in this for the money, asks instructor Erica Hall. No hands rise. Hall looks out at the class, about a dozen faces, and tells them that what they’re learning to do won’t be about the fame either.

Becoming a community health worker is all about helping your neighbors and, while the return won’t come in the form of fame or fortune, the students will find that their service pays off.

Students have come from as close as East Durham and as far as Moore County for the Community Health Worker Basic Training course held twice a week on Durham Tech’s main campus.

After the course ends in December, Hall said they’ll be out bridging the gap that exists between the community, schools and healthcare centers and agencies.

Until then, they’re learning how to support their future clients during the time between appointments and meetings, while helping with issues that an under-served community might face along the way.

Hall said that those roles are necessary.

“There’s still an issue with all these resources we have here where people aren’t aware of their resources that are here,” said Hall. “I think having a community health worker right in your neighborhood, right at your fingertips, helps bring that awareness and kind of helps close the gap for those disadvantages that are happening.”

Hall kicks off this class with a scenario similar to what the students might face out in the field, asking them how they’d help their client. The group is going over stress management. Later, they’ll learn about conflict resolution.

The lesson and the group’s discussion is seamless. The students know what they’re talking about. Most have backgrounds in public health or service in their communities as social workers, community health ambassadors and violence interrupters, to name a few.

Still, the students say that they’ve had a lot to learn—much of it from each other.

“Basically, the class has given me a different perspective from different people that work community work,” said Convellius Parker, a resident of South Durham. “Just hearing other people’s opinions, and how I can add that to my work in the field that I do.”

Perry Tankard Sr., a doctor of theology from East Durham, said that he and his classmates have also been able to connect with community organizations through the course.

“It has helped us broaden our perspective on different aspects of different groups and organizations reaching out in the community to help better the community,” said Tankard.

Pamela Krakow, director of the college’s Nurse Aide program, oversees the Community Health Worker Basic Training course and works closely with Duke Medical School and the Durham Health Department on content. The medical school and the health department originally came to DTCC about starting the course.

Krakow said that North Carolina is working toward creating a Community Health Worker certification. Once in place, she said that the college is prepared to adapt the course so that students can earn the state-recognized credential.

For now, Krakow said that the course is about honoring an age-old practice, and the people who have carried it forward.

“It’s fascinating, and I think it’s been going on for centuries,” said Krakow. “That’s how people got care done, and it’s always been sort of happening behind the scenes, but now we’re bringing it to the forefront saying, ‘These people should be recognized for the work they do for their community.’”

For more information on taking the course in the spring, visit https://www.durhamtech.edu/noncredit/healthcare.htm or call the Allied Health Continuing Education department at 919-536-7222 x4313.


From class discussion to validation of good work, here’s what students have to say about the course. Editor’s note: the following quotes have been edited for length.

Kim Surles, from Southeast Durham on what the course has meant to her: “I want to say that I’m enjoying the class and, one thing, it was confirmation to me, because a lot of us were doing it organically anyway—just a natural way of offering resources and helping people. So, it was confirming that we’re doing a good work.”

Avien Blackman, from Carthage, Moore County, on the layout of the course: “Well, I enjoy the class because I appreciate how practical the class is and how relevant it is to what’s actually going on right now. … I think that the way the class is set up, it allows us to have an even playing field no matter from what aspect or what background we come from. We all are able to learn collectively in this class.”

Michele Long, from West Durham on class participation: “I wasn’t expecting it to be as much open-forum as it is. I kind of expected a little bit more traditional ‘she-write, you-write.’ But I think that the interaction in the class is key and it’s been refreshing for me having been to school a hundred times—this is a hundred and one—to be in a classroom where everybody participates and you can learn so much from everybody around you.”

Charlita Jones, from Mebane, Orange County, on the best thing she’s learned: “The actual role of a community health worker. We go out there and we go to the community and we’re making sure that clients know exactly like ‘Hey, I’m here to help you to get the resources and the information that you need.’”