The Southwestern Colorado Area Health Education Center has begun offering a new path for area students to become registered medical assistants.
On Thursday, the group announced that a medical assistant apprenticeship program had received approval from the U.S. Department of Labor. Through the program, students ages 16 and up in the Southwest region will be able to get 150 hours of online learning and at least a year of on-the-job training with a local health care provider. Kathleen McInnis, executive director of the education center, said the program was formed in response to a shortage of medical assistants in the area.
“This started about a year and a half ago,” McInnis said. “A primary care provider from Montezuma County came up after an event and said they’re frantic to find qualified medical assistants.”
In an effort to make that search easier, she said the education center put together an advisory team made up of health care providers from the eight counties it represents and asked them for advice in creating an apprenticeship program.
In many industries, professionals can sponsor their own apprentices, paying their expenses and filling out the necessary paperwork. In the new program, the education center will act as a sponsor for each medical assistant apprentice. Students will complete their online classes under the supervision of a teacher assigned by the education center, and do on-the-job training with a provider approved by the Education Center and Labor Department. Their wages will vary by employer, but McInnis said most students’ starting pay will be 75 percent of what a fully trained medical assistant would earn, with the opportunity to earn more as they gain skills and experience.
At the end of the program, apprentices will be able to sit for an exam and get their medical assistant certification, regardless of whether they have any college education, she said.
Although McInnis said the online classes will most likely cost at least $900, some of the cost may be borne by the apprentice’s prospective employer. She said the education center plans to work with each provider that signs up for the program to determine how much they’re willing to pay.
Overall, the program’s goal is to create an easier path to certification for people in Southwest Colorado who are interested in medical careers, she said.
“This is the first apprentice MA program in Southwest Colorado,” McInnis said. “We’re excited to be in on the ground floor.”
The education center’s goal, she said, is to have five apprentices paired with regional medical practices by the end of the year.