Filling a Need in the Medical Community
by Kati O'Hare
Aug 31, 2012 | 2034 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MEDICAL ASSISTANTS – The first graduates of the Medical Office Assistant program at Colorado Mesa University's Montrose Campus. Pictured from left are Melisa Valencia, Ariel Calzada, Brenda Higgs, Samantha Tabor, Brittany English, Amy Grajeda, Patsy Barrett. Not pictured is Amber Aguilar. (Photo by Caitlin Switzer)
MEDICAL ASSISTANTS – The first graduates of the Medical Office Assistant program at Colorado Mesa University's Montrose Campus. Pictured from left are Melisa Valencia, Ariel Calzada, Brenda Higgs, Samantha Tabor, Brittany English, Amy Grajeda, Patsy Barrett. Not pictured is Amber Aguilar. (Photo by Caitlin Switzer)
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MONTROSE – There is a new program on the Western Slope that is exposing opportunities for job seekers and filling a need in the medical community.

Several newly certified medical assistants recently became marketable employees after completing a new program at Colorado Mesa University in Montrose.

"The Colorado workforce centers of the Western Slope identified a regional need for training individuals for medical assisting. They provided some grant funding, which helped establish the program both at Western Colorado Community College (a division of CMU) and the CMU Montrose Campus," said Joey Montoya Boese, director of the Montrose campus.

The program, which allows students to be certified as a medical assistant in one year, or attain an Associates of Applied Science in Medical Office Assisting with an addition 20 credits, started last fall.

The students learn skills needed to work the front desk at medical offices, such as billing processes, and learn back-office skills, such as basic patient exam procedures, Program Director Cathy Hartt said. Basic anatomy and physiology classes help students understand medical terminology and doctor recommendations and lab training allows them the basic knowledge to assist with lab tests and documentation. And after their course work, the students are placed in internships within the medical community to get hands-on training and skills.

"I think it's a great way for medical offices to hire someone that they know has had great training; who are productive and safe at a lower liability to them," Hartt said.

Area medical staff agree that the program can be beneficial to their businesses.

"It's helpful to have someone with a background in clinical operations," said Mickey Zimmerman, business operations manager at Montrose Memorial Hospital's cardiology office. "What's helpful is that you know they (interns) have at least been exposed to the medical field. Hiring someone without that schooling, they may have previous experience and learned on the job, but you are taking a risk and making assumptions about their knowledge."

Along with MMH, interns also are placed within private practices.

"I think it's a great idea to have this in the community," said Kristina Hale, a licensed practical nurse with Mountain West Family Practice in Montrose. "Our intern worked out really well and we ended up hiring her. There is a shortage of nurses, and this helps fill the positions that are open."

Hale said their intern, with a good understanding of how a medical office operates, improved flow, and therefore, the office saw more patients. At the time, the office didn't have an opening, but created a new position because of the increase business the office achieved during the internship.

"These students learn a lot about billing and are someone that can keep the office productive in a quality way that will help them (medical offices) stay in business," Hartt said. "It's a cost-effective system."

Although an associate's degree is not always necessary for employment, the opportunity is available because some students may choose to move on to larger, more competitive job markets, she said.

"They may be equally employable locally, but bigger city's might prefer that associate's degree," Hartt said. "Or, if they want to go into another field, they've got those core classes out of the way."

A medical career is what 2011 Montrose High School graduate Amy Grajeda is after. She recently completed her first year at Colorado Mesa University, taking the medical assisting course. She plans to continue her education and get her associate's degree.

"I want to keep going in the medical field and eventually become a [Registered Nurse], so I'd like to get as much education under my belt as I can," she said. "This is a good way to kick off my education; I thought training and education at the same time in what I wanted to do was a good idea."



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