Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences launches a new medical assistant program beginning this fall.
The Lancaster-based, private four-year college announced the new nine-month, full-time program this week.
The program will prepare students to work as administrators or clinicians in medical offices and arrives at a time when medical assistant positions are expected to see significant growth.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that jobs for medical assistants will grow 19% from 2019 to 2029 and that there will be 139,000 new medical assistant jobs in the next decade.
“Medical assistants are a critical part of a health care team, providing administrative and clinical support services to ensure care delivery is efficient and effective,” said Heather Myers, program director for the medical assistant program at Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences. “Being a medical assistant means that no two days are the same. You may take patient vitals, draw blood or process lab samples one day, and spend the next day at the front desk checking in patients and processing insurance claims.”
PA College is currently accepting applications for the program, which includes both theory and hands-on clinical practice courses along with a six-week externship in a medical office or ambulatory clinic.
The new program is part of an effort by the college to continue developing new programs to reflect the region’s health care needs, said Dr. Karen Dielmann, dean of health sciences at PA College.
“Medical assistants are some of the most dedicated health care professionals, and this program offers students a great career path by offering the right type and amount of preparation, as well as a stepping stone to other rewarding medical careers,” Dielmann said.
Health science and nursing programs at the Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences have both seen an increase in enrollment for the fall and spring, which could be a factor of the spotlight given to health care careers during the pandemic.
The health care-focused university in Lancaster is looking to bring on more faculty and increase its number of clinical sites as more students begin careers in the health sciences, according to Dr. Karen Dielmann, dean of health sciences, sciences and humanities and Dr. Cheryl Grab, dean of nursing.
“A part of that is a result of how health care workers are being portrayed,” said Dielmann. “Health care workers in my mind have always been heroes but now because of COVID you see signs on the street thanking health care heroes. Who doesn’t want to be a hero?”
As with most other schools this year, the Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences was forced to take all of its programming online, save for the in-person work at clinical sites that its students need for graduation.
In March, the school was able to transition to an online format within a week, according to Grab. For the nursing program, that was helped along by essentials of the program like informatics and health care tech, which the program must teach its students to keep certain accreditations.
“Knowing that we had some of those things in place, because of what our accreditors mandated, positioned us to be well off,” Grab said.
Students and faculty of other programs also had a leg up in the transition because they were already somewhat familiar with the school’s learning management system, said Dielmann.
Some offerings at the school which were previously seen as impossible to go online have also changed dramatically this year, such as the method that the school’s medical ultrasound department uses to teach scanning.
Dielmann said that while the program previously used pregnant volunteers, the school now offers simulations that students can use to get a similar experience.
New students coming to the school will no doubt be using new technology to prepare themselves for the workplace, but as far as new programming is concerned, the deans said that the school was already well prepared for the changes that hospitals have gone through because of the pandemic.
“It really isn’t a lot of new programming, but they are weaving in more about pandemics and infection control,” said Dielmann. “It was already there but now it’s real time and it makes more sense to the students. The way we teach is different. All of the faculty I talk to, even after COVID, more things can be done online.”
School work such as anatomy and physiology labs, which were previously seen as something that could not be taken online but have now been transitioned to online labs, are an example of how the school is shifting how it teaches, said Dielmann.
Going into the pandemic, the school maintained robust relationships with area health systems, allowing students to perform clinicals both inside and outside of the state. The deans said that the systems have relied on both the school’s faculty and students to help with staffing shortages during the pandemic.
“We have asked our pre-licensure nursing students if they would be willing to work increased hours at Lancaster General because they have a need for more staffing,” Grab said. “Many members of their staff are in quarantine so they sought us out. They’ve even asked our faculty if they would be willing to pick up hours in their time of need.”
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