STAR² Center Talks Workforce Success PodcastIn the introductory season of the STAR² Center Talks Workforce Success podcast, ACU’s Michelle Fernández Gabilondo gives you a glimpse into the integral role Chief Workforce Officers (CWO) play in advancing health center workforce success. In this episode Michelle interviews Nataly Diaz, Assistant Director of Workforce Development at the California Primary Care Association, about the vital role PCAs play in strengthening the workforce efforts of health centers including initiatives that support CWOs.

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Full Transcript: Primary Care Association Workforce Efforts for FQHCs

Introduction: Welcome to STAR² Center Chats with Workforce Leaders, which features the voices of health center experts from around the nation. We know this invaluable information will help in your journey to advance the workforce initiatives of your organization.

Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: Welcome everybody. My name is Michelle Fernández. I am the senior training specialist here at the Association of Clinicians for the Underserved. Today, we’re going to be talking to Nataly Diaz. She is the assistant director of workforce development at the California Primary Care Association, as well as serving on our board here at ACU. Welcome, Natalie.

Nataly Diaz: Thank you for having me.

Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: We’re very excited to have you here. As we get started, we always begin all of our interviews really talking about how health centers were started by communities for communities. The aim is really to build a workforce that is reflective of those communities. One thing that we’re very excited to have you is because you’re going to be bringing in that PCA perspective. We just want to know if you could tell us a little bit more about the California PCA, the work that you do for health centers to really help them meet that mission, and then also for their workforce.

Nataly Diaz: I’d be happy to. The mission of CPCA is to lead and position community health centers through advocacy, education, and services, as key players in the healthcare delivery system. We represent more than 1300 community health center sites that collectively serve 7.2 million patients. That means one out of every six Californians are served by our community health centers. Our goal is to develop a robust healthcare workforce that is responsive to and reflective of California’s diverse communities. We’ve done this by creating a bold step in our strategic plan focused on workforce development. Within that bold step, we have seven distinct goals that include concentrated policy and programmatic activities on pipeline development, community-based training programs, recruitment, retention, and so much more.

Nataly Diaz: Just to give you an example, in the space of graduate medical education, we’ve advocated for federal teaching health center graduate medical education funding, and state investments as well that will support health centers in developing and sustaining ACGME accredited residency programs. To ensure that our health centers are able to capitalize on that funding, we have offered several online and in-person trainings and toolkits through our residency roadmap, and we have seen great results. Over the last three years, we have grown from having seven ACGME accredited physician residency programs in our community health centers to 11. Our multi-pronged approach is implemented through close partnerships with regional, statewide, and national organizations such as ACU.

Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: Wonderful, thank you so much. That is really exciting. Everything that you’re doing at the PCA level and on behalf and for health centers and all of your workforce initiatives, and just being able to hear that, we also want to know more personally about your professional journey. How did you get to your current role? How long have you been there? Anything that you would like to share with us.

Nataly Diaz: I’m sure you’ve heard of the term grow your own workforce.

Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: Yes.

Nataly Diaz: Well, long story short, that’s how I came to be here. I was introduced to community health centers through a college internship at CPCA, which then led me to pursue a volunteer experience at Westside Family Health Center. I loved the energy and the service-oriented nature of the network, that I came back to CPCA to work as a full-time employee. I started out as a program coordinator focused on the 340B program and outreach and enrollment. At the end of 2015, the association was getting ready to recruit for a workforce position. I quickly raised my hand, and I’ve loved every step of the journey. I’ve had the honor to meet and work with many talented people like yourself and implement a number of initiatives that take us one step closer to meeting our workforce goals. As the assistant director of workforce development, I now not only enjoy working on the implementation, but also the strategic planning of our workforce initiatives.

Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: Thank you so much. The health center family is so lucky to have you. I remember when I started working with health centers, they told me once you’re in the health center family, you’re never out of it, so it’s definitely very much about growing our own, so thank you for sharing that. One of the things is you really are a leader in workforce within the health centers and PCA world, and as you know, this recording is about CWOs. I want to ask you, as a workforce professional, why would you say that a chief workforce officer is such an important role in health centers?

Nataly Diaz: I believe that having someone who is serving as a CWO, or works in an equivalent capacity, provides that critical perspective and strategic vision for developing the healthcare workforce in an organization. I think this role can help move the needle in four important areas. To start, they develop and conduct skill gap assessments to evaluate existing workforce needs and develop training programs, or what we oftentimes refer to as career ladders. This helps improve job readiness for employees along with the provision of high quality health care. Secondly, I think it’s important to have someone who can take a close look at the existing recruitment and retention strategies. By assessing what strategic adjustments need to be made, health centers can ensure that they have the staff that they need to care for their communities. I believe the last two are particularly important given our current environment with the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial equity movement.

Nataly Diaz: The third thing that comes to mind is the importance of implementing strategies that mitigate factors contributing to burnout, compassion fatigue, and moral distress among the workforce. We need to find ways to rejuvenate joy and meaning in work to not only get through this pandemic, but remain resilient and continue our long-term commitment to service. Lastly, we need someone who can foster diversity, equity, and inclusion within the workforce. We need someone who can use DEI values to guide relationships with community groups and partners as applicable to ensure representation of the local community. Overall, a multi-pronged approach is needed to create a diverse and robust healthcare workforce. It’s important to have someone in that dedicated role, or several individuals in a team to provide that strategic direction.

Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: Wonderful. Thank you so much again. That is such a thorough response. I know a lot when we talk about the CWO, it is a newer role, so being able to break it down into those four reasons for why it is such an important role and give it that special place and what a CWO or somebody in an equivalent role would do. I think it’s very much what our listeners are looking for and it’s going to be incredibly helpful for them. You’re right, the resilience of our workforce is pivotal and making sure that we’re really also reflecting the communities that we serve. I think that also naturally transitions us into, as we begin to wrap this up, all health centers are different. They’re small. They’re big, rural, urban, and especially for some of the smaller ones, or some of the rural centers, they may not have the capacity to hire a CWO. What advice would you give to these health centers to be able to have someone at the CWO role, or an equivalent role, and really prioritize that in their workforce initiatives.

Nataly Diaz: Well, having someone to spearhead a lot of the work is incredibly helpful. It’s also not a requirement to starting to think through how a health center can best create the workforce that meets their patients’ needs. I’ve seen a lot of health center staff come together to form a team, and then they each take pieces of the larger CWO role. I think this is a great option for health centers to consider. That being said, the main message I want to convey is that their team is not alone in this process. Health centers are able to lean on support from their primary care associations, regional clinic associations, NACHC, the NTTAPs, and many more organizations who have set the foundation. For example, I think about the retention and recruitment self assessment and action plan developed by the STAR² Center, which is a great way to evaluate gaps and opportunities. There are many tools like this already out there that provide health centers a template for developing workforce initiatives.

Nataly Diaz: Another one that comes to mind is the readiness to train assessment tool, which PCAs across the country are rolling out alongside HRSA and CHC Inc. Together we can help health centers strategize the workforce initiatives that are best suited for their organizations.

Michelle Fernández Gabilondo: Yes, exactly. I think you bring up such a good point that this role and workforce in health centers is not a one size fits all. It really is a continuously evolving role, but there are so many things out there right now that could help people as they evolve work on these initiatives, look towards having individuals go into a CWO or equivalent role. Well, I just want to say thank you so much for your time today. Again, we were speaking with Nataly Diaz, the assistant director of workforce development at the California Primary Care Association. Thank you so much, Nataly.

Nataly Diaz: Thank you, Michelle.

Closing: Thank you very much for joining us today. We hope today’s conversation provided you with great insight into the important role a chief workforce officer plays in the overall success of your health center. Check out all of our free workforce tools and resources on primary care association workforces and more at