The need for medical assistants is growing, and Neng Yang is training in an FVTC program that's keeping pace with the industry.
How do you decide on a career in an economy that’s constantly changing? That’s a question a lot of people are asking these days, and there are no simple answers. One good place to start, though, is to look hard at the job market. Regardless of the bad news we’re all hearing lately, some sectors are growing. One of the fastest is the medical assistant field.
While you may not have heard this term before, if you’ve been to a doctor’s office or clinic, it’s almost certain you’ve met at least one. Medical assistants are usually the people who call your name and show you to an exam room before taking vital signs, including temperature and blood pressure. They ask about your medical history, and record your symptoms and concerns for the doctor. They also give shots; assist in minor surgery; draw blood; and run lab tests on blood, urine, and other specimens. Depending on the doctor, a medical assistant may also be the person who calls about lab results, and lets you know when a prescription has been called in.
Medical assistants do many of the same things nurses do. In the last several years, the role of medical assistants has expanded to include a broader range of duties than in the past. “More procedures are being done in clinics rather than hospitals, and physicians and organizations are realizing there’s a broad spectrum of things medical assistants can do, and they’re using them more,” says Kim Gropp, an instructor and department chair with Fox Valley Technical College’s Medical Assistant program at the Oshkosh Riverside campus.
Training for the Future
Neng Yang, 21, was working as a waitress before enrolling in the college’s Medical Assistant program in August 2008. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t thought of going to college before this. But after graduating from Oshkosh North High School in 2006, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to study. So she took a job at a local restaurant and put thoughts of the future on hold. “I didn’t want to just rush into doing something and then not be committed to it,” she explains.
As the years passed, she thought about school a lot. But it wasn’t until her older sister, Yer Chang, 24, starting studying to be an administrative assistant at FVTC that she finally made the decision to start training for a career herself. “It was really motivating for me to see her go back to school,” Yang recalls. “I couldn’t help thinking, ‘Hey, she’s doing something with her life and I need to do that, too.’”
Though she’d always thought of doing something in the medical field, Yang didn’t know what. After learning more about medical assistants, she talked with her sister, Yer, and they decided to pursue the Medical Assistant degree. “We’re doing everything together,” says Yang. “We take classes, and help each other out. It’s good to have her there.”
One thing Yang likes about the one-year, technical diploma program is that Gropp, her instructor, is a Certified Medical Assistant. “She tells us stories about what she’s experienced and that’s helpful,” says Yang, who recalls an anecdote in which Gropp took a patient’s blood pressure and realized that something was wrong. “She reported it to the doctor and she was correct—something was wrong. If she hadn’t known her stuff, no one may have noticed it.”
Growing to Meet the Need
FVTC launched its Medical Assistant program in Oshkosh in 2002 because the nursing shortage at that time had increased the need for trained medical personnel. “Medical professionals were contacting us to say that they needed medical assistants to be readily available,” says Gropp.
By the second year, the program reached its capacity of 24 students, with more waiting to get in. Within a few years, the number of students hoping to enroll has only increased. To help meet the need, the college started a second program at its new Waupaca Regional Center in August. “We’re already seeing great interest in our Waupaca program,” says Zoe Cujak, associate dean of FVTC’s Business, Health, and Service division. Twelve students are currently enrolled there, and recruitment efforts have led to the approval of more students who are ready to enter the program.
“What’s nice about having both locations is that they’re set up so Oshkosh students start in January, and Waupaca students start in August,” says Cujak. “That way, if a student needs to repeat a class, he or she can usually go to the other campus to do so without having to wait until it’s offered again.”
Another innovative way FVTC is addressing the influx of students entering health care-related training programs is through Ready Groups. The college no longer maintains a list of students waiting to get into a program. Rather, the Ready Group process enables students to take necessary general education, science, and elective courses. “Instead of students putting their name on a waiting list to start taking any coursework, they now can take general education courses in high-demand programs like this,” Cujak notes. “Then they have a better chance of getting into core classes.”
Cujak also points to another unique aspect of FVTC’s Medical Assistant program: the use of human patient simulators. Often used to train other types of medical workers such as paramedics and nurses, the simulators are essentially high-tech mannequins. Most are remarkably sophisticated.
Spotlight on Waupaca
FVTC has several campuses and regional centers, but Waupaca was chosen as the site for the new Medical Assistant program because of the growing need for medical assistants in rural areas, says Lori Weisse, instructor and chair of Waupaca’s Medical Assistant program.
The Waupaca program’s popularity has attracted a wide variety of students, ranging in age from 20 to 50, who come from many different backgrounds. Some were in a business field and wanted to change jobs. Others are displaced workers looking to move into a career that appears more stable in today’s economy.
One student recently returned from a meeting at a local workforce development center, where she learned there were about 350 open medical assistant positions in the area, stretching between Green Bay and Fond du Lac. “I’m not surprised there are that many openings,” says Weisse. “A lot of places are figuring out that medical assistants can do most of the same things nurses do, so there’s a lot of room for growth.”