Walmart announces plan to build healthcare workforce, offering education for $1 a day

As Walmart moves deeper into primary care, the retail giant wants to ensure there is a skilled healthcare workforce to fill critical roles in its 20 care clinics.

Earlier this month, the world's largest retailer unveiled its new clinic called Walmart Health in Dallas, Georgia, which gives patients access to low-cost primary care including for mental health issues. 

Walmart announced Tuesday its 1.5 million associates will be able to apply for one of seven bachelor’s degrees and two career diplomas in health-related fields for $1 a day through Live Better U, Walmart’s education benefit program.

The new degrees and certificate programs will provide Walmart employees with a path to higher-paying careers in the growing healthcare field, Walmart executives said. Adding healthcare education to Live Better U’s college offering also fits with the retailer's evolving health and wellness strategy, they said.

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The health and wellness courses include career diploma programs for pharmacy technicians and opticians through Penn Foster and seven bachelor’s degrees in health science, health and wellness and healthcare management/administration offered through Purdue University Global, Southern New Hampshire University, Bellevue University and Wilmington University.

The education program will arm employees with training to fill critical healthcare roles across Walmart and Sam’s Club, which includes more than 5,000 retail pharmacies, 3,000 vision centers and 400 hearing centers, the retailer said in a release. The upskilled workforce will help the retailer make quality healthcare more affordable and accessible to customers in the communities it serves.

Healthcare jobs are projected to grow 14% from 2018 to 2028, adding about 1.9 million new jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Our presence in thousands of communities gives us a unique opportunity to provide access to affordable healthcare to millions of people, and we need trained associates in order to do so,” Thomas Van Gilder, Walmart's chief medical officer, told reporters during a press call Monday. “As our health and wellness strategy and offerings continue to evolve, Live Better U will play a critical role in preparing our associates across the country for future work opportunities in the growing healthcare field.”

Walmart currently operates 19 care clinics in Georgia, South Carolina and Texas that provide services such as primary care, illnesses and injuries, chronic condition management, physical and wellness checks and lab tests and immunizations. The new Walmart Health center, which opened Sept. 13, has expanded offerings like counseling services, dental care, optometry and hearing. The retailer partners with local providers in Dallas to provide those services.

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Sean Slovenski, who moved over to Walmart from Humana, is leading the clinic efforts, CNBC reported.

The focus on a healthcare education program suggests that Walmart is looking to push further into healthcare services. Van Gilder said the healthcare degrees and diplomas will help train employees to support Walmart's current clinic environments.

"We're in the process of gathering information and learning from our new site in Dallas, Georgia, and we'll refine that offering as we go. We’ll see an expansion of opportunities there and elsewhere in primary care as well as in our pharmacy, vision centers, and hearing centers as well," Van Gilder said.

There are currently more than 13,500 Walmart employees enrolled in Live Better U, which offers 50 programs. The retailer's goal is to have 50,000 employees enrolled in the next five years. Associates completed more than 36,000 credits worth a total of $17.5 million in the first year of the program, according to Walmart.

Walmart Senior Vice President of Associate Experience Drew Holler said adding healthcare to the program's curriculum helps to remove financial and access barriers to education for employees while also matching up with the retailer's health and wellness business strategy.

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"As we look to improve the program, we think through what our associates are interested in and also think about the business needs. Then we look at how we can combine those two to both provide opportunities and make sure our business is set up for the future and servicing our customers," he said.

Walmart plans to add behavioral health training to the program curriculum in the next year, Holler said, noting that there is a high demand for healthcare training among employees.

“Walmart aims to be the market leader in providing retail workers a path to careers in growing fields like healthcare. We don’t know of any other retailer in America that has a program that allows its associates the opportunity to achieve a degree in healthcare that can translate into a higher-paying job within the company or in the broader field," Holler said.