Summer/Fall 2021

Health Workforce


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Keisha L. Smith, MPA

The Virginia Health Workforce Development Authority (VHWDA) continues to demonstrate its commitment to build and to sustain a workforce credentialed and ready to fill critical health positions. The VHWDA, charged by statute since 2010, has ensured that providers throughout the Commonwealth can deliver high quality, affordable primary care, dental and behavioral health services. 

The unprecedented surge in health worker demand, especially from the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic, has further substantiated the need for the VHWDA and its role in developing and then leading partnerships to respond to the pandemic and other ongoing health needs of our communities. Given the current situation, our dedicated health providers are deserving of praise and applause from every member of the Commonwealth. These heroes have willingly carried out their responsibilities in environments that are certainly life threatening.

I am thrilled that the VHWDA has ignited additional enthusiasm of leaders within and outside of Virginia state government to collaborate to reduce the enormity of gaps in a credentialed health workforce. It too has been an honor and privilege for me to work with so many segments of the health care industry. These groups have established diverse communication platforms which enable the exchange of real time data, resources, and interaction with subject matter experts. Our collaborative efforts have allowed us to respond strategically and innovatively to challenges and opportunities associated with expanding the health worker pool and ensuring Virginia's health care workers are fully equipped and credentialed to perform! 

I am extremely excited to share highlights of VHWDA's most recent involvement including the work of board members and our Area Health Education Centers (AHECs).

Policy Work

During the 2021 Legislative Session, Delegate Rodney Willett, VHWDA Board Vice Chair, sponsored legislation which expanded the VHWDA to substantiate the value that it brings to the Commonwealth as a political subdivision of the state.

HB1976 broadens the authority of VHWDA to better carry out its mission of increasing the supply, distribution and diversification of qualified health care professionals throughout the Commonwealth.

Additionally, Delegate Rodney Willett and Senator George Barker, VHWDA Board Chair, sponsored legislation (HB1913 and SB1205) that passed as well in the General Assembly to address career fatigue and wellness in certain health care providers.

In the news: Read Delegate Willett's recent article on addressing the behavioral health crisis in Virginia here.

Supporting Virginia’s Health Workforce Pipeline Development – Presentation

Virginia Department of Education’s “Experience Works—A Convening of Business Leaders and Educators” 

This Virtual Conference held June 16th and 17th was designed to provide Virginia’s Career and Technical Education Leaders with work-based learning best practices and resources to use in the upcoming school year. 

During the convening, Keisha L. Smith, Executive Director of the Virginia Health Workforce Development Authority, presented on: Health Careers Promotion and Preparation: Work-Based Learning with Virginia Area Health Education Centers (AHECs).

This presentation focused on how to create a successful program to transition students from the classroom to a career in the health care field. Information presented emphasized how to (a) promote programs to build a successful partnership with area business and industry and (b) create a steady flow of diverse, quality health care professionals into your community.

For more information on work-based learning (WBL) opportunities for students in your region, contact your local AHEC; and for additional WBL resources, visit the Virginia Department of Education's page.

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VHWDA and its AHECs are positioned to train Community Health Workers (CHWs) 

We are working with our South Central Regional AHEC Center to train dislocated workers who want to serve their communities as CHWs. Click on the flyer to learn more!

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Increasing Refugee Participation in

 Virginia's Workforce

Secretary Megan Healy is convening a workgroup to study and offer recommendations to improve the participation of refugees in Virginia’s workforce.


VHWDA is participating in this workgroup that has been tasked with identifying barriers recent refugees in Virginia face to entering the workforce; assess participation in adult education and workforce training programs; compare the current employment of recent refugees to that of their employment; and identify the top occupations that recent refugees seek to work in Virginia; make recommendations of addressing barriers that prevent refugees from using their work experience gained outside of the United States and improve refugee participation in Virginia's workforce.

Developing Virginia's New Nursing Preceptor Incentive Program

The Virginia Health Workforce Development Authority is convening key stakeholders to develop the process for the consideration of requests for funding from the new Nursing Preceptor Incentive Program. This program will offer cash incentives for Virginia preceptors including licensed physicians, physician assistants, and advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). The overall aim of this program is to increase the number of clinical education opportunities for advanced practice nursing students, leading to an enhanced experience in their nursing programs.

More program details to come this fall!

In the Spotlight

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VHWDA Board Treasurer

Vanessa Walker Harris, MD

Vanessa Walker Harris, MD, is the Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Resources for Governor Ralph Northam. Prior to her appointment, she served as director of the Office of Family Health Services at the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) from 2015-2020. In that role, she provided strategic leadership to teams engaged in nutrition, data surveillance, and maternal and child health. 

She also served as the Director of the Division of Prevention and Health Promotion at VDH, and oversaw implementation of programs targeting chronic disease prevention, injury and violence prevention, and oral health promotion. She began her career in public health as Medical Director of the Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Control at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Originally from Ohio, she earned a BS in Chemistry from Hampton University and a medical degree from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She completed internal medicine residency at Johns Hopkins Bayview and endocrine fellowship at Johns Hopkins.  

Celebrating Virginia's Health Professionals


Frontline Health Care Worker

Nurse Practitioner

Tangela Crawley, NP

Why did you become a health care worker?

I became a health care worker because I was always interested in medicine. I wanted to help and heal people. I also wanted to grow in my profession and have longevity. 

What has been your experience during this pandemic?

My experience has been stressful with all the loss we have endured. It has been a time of learning and going back to the basics of practice. Those things included infection control and taking care of the patient’s mental, physical, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being while also keeping myself healthy during this time.

What keeps you going?

What keeps me going is my faith and knowing that this is just a period in time. This is a time when medicine is evolving, and I am learning to be better at what I do. It is not the first pandemic, and it will not be the last. I believe in science, and I know that our scientists and medical teams are some of the best in the world. We always innovate. We always adapt. We always overcome. There is nothing that we cannot do together in medicine.

What advice would you give current health professions students?

I would tell health professions students to first have a love for the career that you pursue. Second, learn all you can while focusing on evidence-based practice. Lastly, never forget why you do what you do.

September is National Workforce Development Month!

We want to recognize and express appreciation for the endless work and support from our partners in strengthening the health workforce in Virginia. The Virginia Health Workforce Development Authority knows that initiatives such as those focused on understanding the needs of health care workers, skill building through education and training, increasing public health funding and other areas must continue if we desire to create a health workforce able to respond to the needs of our diverse communities. Take a moment this month to reflect on and highlight some of the amazing work that you are doing to support the development of Virginia’s health workforce. 

Read the resolution passed by the U.S. Senate designating September 2021 as National Workforce Development Month here.

Upcoming Events

Capital AHEC

AHEC Scholars Virtual Info Sessions

Join Capital AHEC on one of the following dates to learn more about the AHEC Scholars Program. For more information and to register, visit the Capital AHEC page.

  • Tuesday, September 21, 2:00pm
  • Tuesday, September 21, 6:00pm
  • Tuesday, September 30, 2:00pm
  • Tuesday, September 30, 6:00pm
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Northern Virginia AHEC

Healthcare Disparities Conference

Tuesday, October 5, 12:30-3:15pm

Join Northern Virginia AHEC for the 3rd Annual Healthcare Disparities Conference! This year's theme is A Call for Transformation: Impactful Strategies for Sustainable Change. For more information and to register, visit the Conference page.

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Visit the Virginia Health Workforce Development Authority's website and social media pages to learn more about our policy and programmatic initiatives!

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