A new program through Missoula College makes it possible for students to launch careers in health care by the time they graduate from high school.
The mostly online program can be completed in about nine months and sets students up with careers as medical assistants, which are growing at a faster than average rate for all occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“There’s a dearth of medical assistants right now,” said Tucker Bing, the director of regional cardiology with the Billings Clinic. “There’s lots of demand and not a lot of supply.”
Medical assistants work alongside licensed health care providers across a variety of settings in both administrative and clinical duties.
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Missoula College has two different pathways to becoming a medical assistant. One is through the associate’s program, which takes about two years to complete and graduates exit the program as registered medical assistants. The new technical studies certificate allows graduates to become certified clinical medical assistants in about nine months.
“In the eyes of like a health care organization, it would just be that the registered medical assistant would have slightly more training, so they would maybe start off with a slightly higher pay, but not necessarily,” said Lily Apedaile, the health workforce innovation director for the University of Montana.
The program is geared to high school students and is offered remotely, but students must complete a 200-hour externship at one of the various clinical sites across the state.
“(These programs) prepare high school students with career skills so when they graduate, they have a certificate or a certain set of skills where they can enter the job market immediately if they wanted to,” Apedaile said. “We just want to make sure that our students that are graduating from Montana high schools have a number of different options available to them after high school.”
One of the clinical sites students can complete their externships with is through the Billings Clinic, which partners with Community Medical Center in Missoula to manage its cardiovascular program.
Bing said the benefits for the externship go beyond just benefiting the students — it also allows prospective employers the opportunity to have the candidate for somewhat of an “extended interview.”
“It’s just another opportunity to be a training resource because there’s only so many opportunities in Montana to get some of this training and we want people to have opportunities to train locally and work locally because we need the help,” Bing said.
The pilot for the new medical assisting pathway launched with its first group of students earlier this fall and a second cohort is set to begin in January. The pilot program was made possible through a grant from the Montana University System.
Medical assisting can make for a lifelong career, or it can set individuals up to continue their education and move into new health care careers.