Health Care and Higher Education

Apprenticeship program aims to create health care careers

First class of medical assistants will begin at GRCC in January.

November 27, 2015
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A new apprenticeship program that will be offered by a trio of community colleges in West Michigan beginning in January is aimed at creating careers in the health care field.

Grand Rapids Community College, Muskegon Community College and Montcalm Community College have teamed with Mercy Health, Cherry Health, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital and Spectrum Health and West Michigan Works! to develop a medical assistant apprenticeship program, which is recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The program is the first in the nation to be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.

“There is a huge need in the community for medical assistants,” said Linda Witte, program developer and manager of health programs for GRCC Workforce Development. “As employers are growing, the number of physicians to take care of the increased number of people who are eligible for health care, they need staff, and that would be medical assistants.”

Medical assistants take medical histories and record patients’ vital signs, as well as complete administrative and other clinical tasks. They tend to work in medical offices, clinics and urgent care centers, Witte said.

GRCC has been offering a medical assistant education program since 2010, and the medical assistant apprenticeship program is the next step in the school’s evolving program.

“We are taking something that has been successful and growing and adapting it to reach even more people and help them to be able to move up their career ladders,” she said.

“Our placement rate for our current medical assistant program since 2010 is at 96 percent for those who have successfully completed,” Witte said. “The last four classes we’ve run, employment has been at 100 percent — reported by the students — and that is at graduation.”

Witte said with area employers quickly absorbing medical assistant graduates, they started looking at additional options for growing the workforce.

She said health care organizations were asking, “How can we, not only develop more medical assistants, but how can we create that career path within health care organizations?”

An apprenticeship program provides more opportunities for prospective students and employees to enter the field because they can work while attending school.

“These apprenticeships allow students to work while they gain skills toward the national Registered Medical Assistant credential,” Witte said.

“It is attracting two different types of participants: One is the kind who needs to be able to work while going to school and they are looking for an entry into health care. Some of our employers are working with folks for first time, hiring them in. The other is people who are already working for the employers and they are growing their skills.”

The medical assistant apprenticeship is a yearlong program that includes three days of on-the-job learning in a health care setting and two days of classroom education.

While participating in the apprenticeship program, students begin earning $10.40 per hour and end the program making $12.35. Upon earning their credentials as medical assistants, the participating employers have agreed to pay a minimum of $13 an hour to program graduates.

West Michigan Works! is helping to recruit students for the program and holds the apprenticeship, making the organization the backbone for the program.

“West Michigan Works! is a pivotal partner,” Witte said. “They lead the apprenticeship approval application, and they are using their screening process and resources to help prepare prospective students for hiring, and working with the employers to feed them the talent.”

Deb Lyzenga, regional director of business solutions for West Michigan Works!, said one of the benefits of her organization’s involvement as the holder of the apprenticeship is a consistency of education health care organizations can count on.

Lyzenga said prospective students currently are being recruited and are going through a process, which includes ensuring their suitability for the program through assessment testing, preparing them for job interviews with career coaching and résumé help, and ensuring they understand the demands of the program and what to expect.

Lyzenga said she is expecting the first class of students to total 45, with 15 enrolled at each of the three colleges.

She said many of the students already are enrolled at the community colleges, while others are further along in their lives and are looking at re-entering the workforce.

Once the first class of students has started, West Michigan Works! will monitor the program.

“We will be doing the data collection for how successful the program is and we will be the entity that issues the apprenticeship credential,” Lyzenga said.

Lyzenga said she expects to begin lining up a second class of students next August, as long as things seem to be going well with the program at that point.

In addition to the apprenticeship program, GRCC will continue to offer its medical assistant program.

Witte said that program is offered in two cohorts, with about 60 students enrolling per year.

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