Program offers fast track to medical assistant certification

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BRATTLEBORO — Brattleboro Memorial Hospital saw a need and responded. The hospital was having trouble filling entry level medical positions. It was posting job openings for certified medical assistants and not getting any applicants.

Despite the lack of applicants, there seemed to be an interest from people who did not have the skill set to be a medical assistant, and who had difficulty obtaining the right education. Community College of Vermont offered a two-year medical assistant degree, but many people couldn't afford or dedicate the time to a two-year program. So BMH made it easier.

"There were these barriers to becoming a medical assistant," Elidh Pederson, the executive director of BMH, said. "So we took our need, paired with the fact that we knew there were good, smart people who wanted to fit our need, but couldn't, and we met with CCV."

Pederson said what BMH really needed was people who had skill sets applicable to outpatient medicine. The hospital also needed people who could apply inpatients skills like pharmacology to an outpatient setting.

Together BMH and CCV created an accelerated 14-week, five-class program for Certified Medical Assistants called College to Careers. A CMA is a medical assistant trained to do administrative, clinical and general tasks. The class is limited to 20 participants per semester. BMH provides full scholarships for eight program participants. The scholarship recipients also get supervised clinical training at BMH and are guaranteed jobs there as soon as they pass the program.

Through the program students learn anatomy, computer programing, clinical assistantship and pharmacology.

The program was started last year. After the first round of courses seven CCV students went on to work at BMH. Each CMA got experience in 11 of BMH's departments before being placed. BMH worked with the CMAs to try and accommodate them in departments they were interested in.

Alayna Spear and Angela Cummings were both scholarship recipients and now work for BMH. Interest, passion, experience, customer service skills and being reliable were among the factors considered for scholarship recipients.

Spear has been working at BMH for two years. "I was on the administrative side but I was more interested in the clinical set," she said. "I thought it was good opportunity to get clinical knowledge but also remain working at BMH." Now Spear works at Brattleboro Internal Medicine.

Cummings already had a degree in medical technology, raised two young children at home and ran a daycare before signing up. She was interested in getting back into the medical field but "didn't want to be back in the basement." However, as a single mother, taking off two years from work to get a medical assistant degree just wouldn't work for her. She went to an informational meeting about the College to Careers program and knew this was the opportunity for her.

"I love where I am; I'm so happy to be back," she said, "and to actually feel like I'm making a difference."

"And both Angela and Ayane really make a difference," Pederson said. She said they started in places where they were desperately needed. "They helped us serve patients we were struggling to serve because of the lack of clinical support staff."

CMAs can serve as an entry level position or a fulfilling career. The versatility of the position can prepare CMAs for almost any career in the healthcare field, Pederson said.

Leigh Marthe, the coordinator of academic services at CCV, said being a CMA was sometimes more convenient than being a licensed practical nurse because of the universality and because CMAs don't have to have as many requirements to do similar tasks.

Cummings is continuing on to get her associates in medical assisting and may even become a registered nurse.

"By having this jump-start I'll continue working at BMH," Cummings said.

"The medical field is one of our greatest needs in Windham County," Marthe said. She said it would only continue to become a need. She also added that because CCV is a part of the Six College Collaborative it enables students to go on and get nursing degrees with more ease.

An informational meeting about the College to Career Program will be held on Wednesday, May 17, from 1 to 2:30 p.m.at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital in the Brew Barry Conference Room No. 2.

It's not too late to apply to CCV; applications are due June 1. Marthe encourages applicants to apply to financial aid as well as the scholarship. For the application go to the CCV website at the Brattleboro page. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. Pederson recommends interested applicants get them in early.

Harmony Birch can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext.153. Or you can follow her @birchharmony.

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