Goshen Health, a network of primary care and specialty doctors in northern Indiana, was desperately in need of job candidates to fill open medical assistant positions. In May 2021, when many health care workers were feeling burned out from the COVID-19 pandemic, Goshen had 36 unfilled positions.
The organization realized it needed to develop a continuous pipeline of people trained to work those roles instead of competing for a limited pool of already trained and credentialed candidates, said Kyle Bachman, senior recruiter at Goshen. But on its own, it only had the capacity to offer 10 or 12 externships—far short of its employment needs, he noted.
In 2021, Goshen teamed with MedCerts—a provider of career certification training in health-related careers—to offer medical assistant training. Medical assistants may administer medications, assist with minor procedures, record vital signs, take medical histories, prepare patients and rooms for exams, handle laboratory specimens and provide patient education.
Bachman was astonished at the 35 to 40 responses from Goshen's more than 500 employees who indicated they were interested in the training. Many were individuals working in food service, housekeeping and in entry-level administrative jobs.
"A lot of our graduates are people who didn't have the opportunity to go back to school," he noted.
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The first cohort, assembled in June 2021, consisted of seven students. Goshen has had 246 candidates apply or reach out for additional information since January 2022.
Goshen accepts seven to eight students every two months.
"For the sake of ease of operations … we can't have too many students at once," Bachman explained.
Its goal is to have about 40 trainees annually; to date, 32 people have enrolled, and there is a waiting list to be accepted into the program. Individuals who successfully complete the program and pass the National Healthcareer Association exam immediately start work at Goshen as a medical assistant.
The MedCerts partnership "increased our [student] flow and allowed us to promote internally and increase our knowledge pool of clinical applicants," Bachman said. And all of them have found jobs.
"Between growth and expected attrition, we have had openings for all new grads so far."
The program "has been a great eye-opener for us as an organization that this is what we have to do to be sustainable," he said, adding that Goshen has started recruiting for sterile processing technicians, with modules for that position added to its curriculum.
How the Program Works
Applicants for the training must be at least 18 years old and have graduated from high school. No prior health care experience or medical education is required to enter the training. MedCerts screens applicants and Bachman interviews them.
Students work at their own pace. Participants typically take six months to complete their online studies, although some finish in three or four months, according to Bachman.
Modules cover topics such as medical terminology and human anatomy. Students repeat modules until they pass them, and MedCert advisors are available to answer questions about the material and offer individual mentoring.
Once they have successfully completed the modules, students meet with the clinical practice educator, who works with them during their 120-hour externship. During that time, students have hands-on training in a wide range of duties—administering injections and immunizations; collecting samples for clinical testing; handling billing and insurance claims; managing inventories and patient information; preparing patients for exams; using the electronic health record systems; and scheduling appointments.
During the externship, students rotate through one or two of Goshen's 30 outpatient clinics. Most externships are at a primary practice, but they may assist at clinics with specialization in gastrointestinal, heart and vascular, obstetrics and gynecology, orthopedics or urology.
Goshen's investment is $4,000 per student, and participants agree to stay at Goshen for two years after completing the training.
"If there are performance issues, we often find another fit within the organization rather than lose the colleague," Bachman told SHRM Online. "However, if a MedCerts student resigns during their commitment period, they are responsible for paying back the cost of tuition."
Stephanie Isley, 36, is an accountant coordinator for Goshen who decided to pursue the training. Isley had once dreamed of becoming a nurse, but a brain injury from a car accident, coupled with an autoimmune disease that causes her to take periodic leave, changed her plans to attend nursing school.
Because the training is online, she said, her studies are not interrupted when she takes periodic medical leave, since she works at her own pace. Meanwhile, she works remotely to provide for herself and her 12-year-old son. During her off hours, she devotes 16 hours weekly to clinical training at two family clinics.
For now, she has no plans to leave her 29-member department but foresees specializing as a medical assistant with a neurologist at some point.
"Having the support of Goshen and everyone at MedCerts has made this so seamless for me," Isley said. The training gives her the opportunity to work in the medical field "without four years of schooling and without all the debt that incurs."