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Medical Assistant Course Offers Renewed Career Options

The first group of displaced workers to learn new job skills through Pennsylvania College of Technology’s pilot medical assistant course recently completed their career training and have an optimistic outlook for their job prospects. The course was offered in cooperation with Pennsylvania CareerLink’s Lycoming County office.

Ten students, chosen by CareerLink staff, completed the eight-month course on June 13. By a short time later, four had already been offered jobs. The participants spent 800 hours in classes and laboratories and 160 hours on job sites through an externship program.

They are now trained to work in medical offices performing clerical functions, such as scheduling, managing medical records, coding, billing and insurance; and clinical functions, which include checking vital signs, recording medical histories, measuring heights and weights, administering vision and hearing tests, and setting up sterile areas. They also have the flexibility to work in a doctor’s office or an outpatient hospital setting.

The participants wanted to return to the workforce as soon as possible, so the course appealed to them by providing short-term training that led directly to job opportunities.

“When you’re without money for eight months, it’s hard, but I couldn’t imagine that for two years (of schooling),” said Linda Smith, one of the program’s graduates.

Many of the participants were displaced because of downsizing at their previous workplace, which left them frustrated when new jobs were difficult to find, despite their willingness to work for lower wages.

“You go (to a job interview) and they tell you you’re overqualified for a minimum-paying job, but you can’t go back to your high-paying job,” said Tina Vaughn, another program graduate.

After completing the class, the students said they feel like their job prospects “are 100 percent better.”

According to Candace S. Baran, director of professional and community education at Penn College, the students were dealing with various emotions when they enrolled in the class.

“The students were very nervous when the program began,” she said. “They had just made an eight-month commitment to a very intensive program that they hoped would provide them with an entry into the health-care industry. Most did not have any medical training, so everything would be new. They were all nontraditional students, unsure about returning to the classroom. Many were still dealing with the negative emotions that result from losing a job and facing an uncertain future.”

But, she said, they were highly motivated. They entered the class as a team, supported and motivated each other as a team, and were determined to succeed as a team. The class adopted the motto “Failure is not an option.” The students were brought together by staff members at CareerLink, who gave them the opportunity to spend time together before the course began at Penn College’s Workforce Development and Continuing Education offices on Reach Road.

CareerLink also prepared the participants before the course started by testing them in math and English. In areas where they were not performing at a 12th-grade level or higher, CareerLink offered them refresher courses, which was valuable to many of the students, some of whom had not done classroom mathematics in more than 30 years.

Baran said: “When the class ended, the entire group was amazing. They were excited, confident and extremely proud of what they had accomplished. They were ready to embark on a new journey.”

The students encourage others to take similar classes, and they hope Penn College offers more short-term training that leads to employment − especially in fields that, like medical assistant, are growing and creating a demand for qualified employees. Medical assistant is one of the fastest-growing occupations in the United States. According to the state Department of Labor and Industry, as of May 2004, the mean annual wage for medical assistants in the Williamsport region was $22,530.

“You have to keep growing with the community or you’re going to be left behind,” Smith said. “The saying that ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ is not true.”

The participants are eligible to take the certification exam to become registered medical assistants. The RMA is a voluntary certification awarded through American Medical Technologists.

A second medical assistant course is under way at Penn College’s North Campus near Wellsboro. The class there, as well as a third class that is scheduled to begin in Williamsport later this month, are open to the public. Cost for the course is $7,450 per student. Students who enroll are eligible to apply for a federal Pell Grant to help defray their expenses.

The third medical assistant course to be offered through Workforce Development and Continuing Education at Penn College is forming now. WDCE is holding information sessions at the Business and Technology Resource Center on Reach Road. The sessions will continue until the class begins in late August. Contact the office to find out session times.

The Workforce Development and Continuing Education Office at Penn College offers noncredit education for the public. For more information about the medical assistant course or other programs offered by WDCE, call (570) 327-4775, send e-mail or visit online.

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