EXCEL Program Trains for Success

"I was one of the lucky four." That’s how Sonya Johnson views scoring a position as one of the administrative assistants at UCSF Department of Radiology China Basin. But if you look a little closer at the effort Johnson has put into her career, you’ll see her luck was paired with a lot of hard work.

Sonya Johnson, Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging UCSFJohnson began her career at UCSF through the EXCEL program. The Excellence through Community Engagement & Learning (EXCEL) Program is a joint effort by UCSF and Jewish Vocational Services to train applicants, many of whom were previously on public assistance, for administrative positions in health care. The program receives private funding from Salesforce and was founded five years ago with the help of the San Francisco Human Services Agency’s Wage Subsidy Initiative. So far, nearly 150 people have graduated. (For a moving story on EXCEL graduates, see this article in the San Francisco Chronicle.) According to EXCEL, 81 percent of graduates now have temporary or full time positions, many at UCSF.


Onboarding Excellence 


Applicants accepted to EXCEL get four months of paid training in soft administrative skills like interacting with patients, and office skills like scheduling software. They work closely with experienced supervisors four days a week.


Johnson remarks, “It’s not easy. You’re going to have to do some things you don’t like. But if you take a look at the bigger picture, it’s definitely worth it.”


“I’ve been working in the radiology department for twenty-one years,” says L’ree Brown, front desk supervisor at the UCSF Imaging Center at Montgomery Street. I told L'ree about EXCEL last year and invited him to a graduation. His response? "I did not have a dry eye all night.”  


He's since worked with two EXCEL interns. Both were accepted into UCSF’s interim staffing pool; one has now advanced to part-time permanent status. “She wants to become a nurse, so a part-time schedule allows her to go to school,” says L'ree.


UCSF's Public Face


Like many of her fellow EXCEL grads, Johnson has a variety of duties which often involve patient interaction. Her previous experience was quite different. “I was a medical assistant for 12 years with the Department of Public Health,” she says. “So I worked with doctors doing back-office clinical work.” EXCEL changed that. “It’s a great opportunity for people who are trying to get into patient-facing aspects of health care. If you are interested in being part of a team who directly affects patients, and you're driven and motivated, you can make it happen.”