Miriam Santana’s life changed after taking her father to an appointment at Healthcare Network three years ago.
She sat in her car after dropping him off at the nonprofit’s Nichols Community Health Center in Golden Gate. She logged onto the organization’s website.
Santana decided right then and there to apply for a job with the medical provider that predominantly serves underprivileged populations in Collier County.
She was hired in 2020 as a COVID-19 screener for the front lobby. A year later she enrolled in the organization’s medical assistant training program. She recently passed a national exam and is a certified clinical medical assistant.
Facing shortages of medical workers similar to hospitals, physician practices and other health-care settings in a fast-growing state of both retirees and families, Healthcare Network has adopted a “grow your own” approach to filling vacancies.
More:Waiting to see a doctor? SWFL hospitals battle shortage in primary care physicians
With two classes completed so far, the nonprofit has filled seven medical assistant positions. There are 11 vacancies out of 32 positions for medical assistants combined at the organization’s 15 locations, according to Valerie Sattler, director of clinical education for the organization.
The third class starts June 26 with nine enrollees who are a mix of employees as internal candidates and outside applicants accepted into the program, Sattler said.
Medical assistants perform crucial duties of taking patient vitals, asking intake questions that include about medications; they can administer some tests and provide vaccines, Sattler said. The hourly pay range is $17.58 to $19.33.
“I was in the first class,” Santana, 24, said. “It was a very intense class and fast paced.”
How bad is need for these workers?
In a survey last year, 44% of group practices said finding medical assistants was the most challenging job to fill, according to Medical Group Management Association, an industry leader on data and trends for medical practice management.
Roughly half of the groups said they resorted to hiring people without clinical backgrounds or hired certified nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses and even registered nurses.
Florida has 57,100 medical assistants currently and job growth is projected at 30% from 2020 to 2030 for 9,300 new positions, according to the Occupational Information Network sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor.
The median hourly wage in Florida for medical assistants is $18.40, according to the website.
The growth in the number of medical assistants that will be needed in Florida is nearly double the 16% projected growth in the occupation nationwide.
What’s required to become a medical assistant?
The state of Florida does not spell out what training medical assistants must have, Sattler said.
“In Florida you don’t need formal training or education to become a medical assistant,” Sattler said. “You don’t have to be certified.”
There are advantages to formal training, such as knowledge of evidence-based medicine, she said.
Helping out:Collier leaders find grant money to keep outreach workers in Immokalee
When the medical assistant training program was launched in August 2021, it involved 16 weeks of classroom learning along with clinical work but the program has since changed, Sattler said.
Now a combined 18 weeks of classroom and hands-on clinical training is involved totaling 720 hours that complies with the guidelines of the American Medical Technologists, a nonprofit, to become a registered medical assistant, she said.
A new career direction for some
Lisbet Vela, 30, of LaBelle, lost her job at wireless company after the devastation of a death in her family.
She initially tried to get into a licensed practical nurse training program in LaBelle but the program was full.
A friend who works at Healthcare Network encouraged her to apply to the medical assistant training program.
“She convinced me to try it,” Vela said, adding that her husband also encouraged her. “He wanted me to have a career. I’m still learning a lot.”
Jenni Ramirez, 23, a patient service representative at Healthcare Network in Immokalee, is enrolled in the class starting June 26.
She lives with her boyfriend, who is in landscaping, and together they are raising a son. Ramirez said she’s always been interested in health care so it seems like a good a career move.
“I am counting the days,” she said.