NWHSU Adds Medical Assisting Diploma to Speed Re-entry into Workforce

For 13 straight weeks, more than 1 million individuals have filed for unemployment in the United States, due to the unprecedented economic impact of COVID-19. Layoffs are cutting across every industry, and many individuals are looking for job training programs that can help them re-enter the workforce quickly.

In 2019, Northwestern Health Sciences University (NWHSU) added five new allied health programs to its roster of complementary medicine degrees. Less than one year later, NWHSU has been approved to expand its educational offerings in Medical Assisting, adding a diploma that offers prospective students a shorter, more flexible path to entering the healthcare workforce.

“We developed the diploma as a shorter more affordable path to the Medical Assisting credential,” says Dale Healey, Ph.D., D.C., dean of the College of Health and Wellness at NWHSU. “There is a tremendous demand for medical assistants, and we are hopeful that this shorter more affordable option will help students get into the workforce as efficiently as possible.”

Serving a Critical Role During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many health systems have leaned on medical assistants to help with adapting traditional in-person services to new safety measures.

“At Hennepin Healthcare, our specialty clinics ceased all in person visits, substituting video visits, except for emergencies,” says Jennifer Kelley, Professional Development Specialist at Hennepin Healthcare. “The medical assistants took on new tasks, including setting up video visits, performing as screeners at our entrances, and serving in the Viral Screening Clinic that administers COVID-19 tests. One medical assistant spent several days on inpatient units, visiting patients to see if they would care to enroll in MyChart.  Many of our MAs trained as HCAs in case of surge capacity.”

In Wisconsin, the UW Health system expanded the duties of medical assistant apprentices during the COVID-19 epidemic, enlisting interns to staff the testing centers.

“Before the pandemic hit, medical assisting as a career was predicted to grow 23 percent in the next ten years,” says Gail Spiegelhoff, CMA, program chair of the Medical Assisting Program at Northwestern Health Sciences University. “The metro area is in dire need of quality medical assistants and our new diploma offering is a faster, more flexible way to get graduates into their careers and into the workforce more quickly.”

One Year to a New Career as a Medical Assistant

The Medical Assistant Diploma offered at Northwestern Health Sciences University was designed with this purpose in mind.

“Students can get everything they need to enter the workforce with this new credential,” says Dr. Healey. “It qualifies them to sit for all necessary exams to become certified. While we recognize the value of the additional courses required to complete the associate degree, we also recognize our responsibility to offer students as efficient a path as possible to get into the workforce.”

In addition to the shortened timeline, the Medical Assistant Diploma at NWHSU also offers unprecedented flexibility in terms of remote learning.

“Due to the way we’ve changed our course delivery to support CDC guidelines that prevent the spread of  COVID-19, we are offering more of the program online, but the labs and all essential skill practice and testing will be done on campus,” says Spiegelhoff. “We have always offered a good mix of on-campus, blended, and online courses, but it is leaning more toward online courses at this time.”

If a student followed the prescribed plan, they would be done in three terms or one year, according to Spiegelhoff; and, even though the program is shorter, students pursuing a diploma will still have access to all of the academic support available to students in the associate degree program: library access, Student Affairs, counseling, career services, and more.

Learning in an Integrative Care Environment

Beyond the benefits that many schools offer students in their medical assisting programs, Northwestern Health Sciences University provides unique professional insights because its clinical education is structured around an integrative care model.

“Students studying medical assisting in NWHSU’s integrated environment can benefit from being exposed to clinical environments beyond the typical hospital and clinic settings,” says Dr. Healey. “For example, medical assisting students in our Bloomington clinic work with chiropractors and their patients. This experience gives them a more well-rounded experience and makes them more marketable as an employee to clinics that offer an integrated approach.”