BAR HARBOR — The adult education program based at Mount Desert Island High School is helping to meet Mount Desert Island Hospital’s chronic need for medical assistants in its primary care and specialty outpatient clinics.
A medical assistant (MA) can perform a number of clinical and administrative duties under the direction of a physician or other licensed health care provider, such as checking patients’ vital signs, entering information into data systems and taking calls from patients regarding prescription renewals.
About a dozen schools in the state offer MA courses on a regular basis. The nearest one to MDI is Beal College in Bangor.
“All of their graduates get scarfed up pretty quickly in the greater Bangor area, so we weren’t getting the kind of trained folks that we really needed,” said Joanne Harris, MDI Hospital’s director of human resources. “We always have openings for medical assistants.”
The shortage of MAs is especially acute now that the federal government requires that MAs working in outpatient settings be certified. Someone who isn’t certified can still be hired, but must become certified within two years. Anyone who has worked as an MA for at least two years does not have to take an MA course to keep the job but must pass the certification exam.
In response to the hospital’s need for MAs, the local adult education program last fall offered its first-ever MA certification course. A total of 15 students signed up. They finish the 140-hour course next week.
“We have promised every successful graduate of this program an interview, and we will likely hire three to six of the top graduates as MAs immediately,” Harris said.
She said the other graduates probably won’t have to wait long to get a job, either with MDI Hospital or somewhere else in the area.
“We always seem to have turnover because people go on to different things,” she said. “A lot of times, MAs decide they want to go to nursing school. So it will be wonderful to have in our local labor market some folks we can call on.”
The MA course is being taught by Regina Quattrucci, who lives in Belfast.
“I have an agreement with a company called Consolidated Curriculum International that offers all sorts of medical courses,” said Anne Patterson, director of Mount Desert Island Adult & Community Education. “They found the instructor for us.”
Six of the 15 students taking the MA course are currently employed by MDI Hospital.
“They are not MAs, but think they might like to go down that path,” Harris said.
She said Art Blank, MDI Hospital’s president and CEO, agreed that the hospital would pay the tuition for those employees “in exchange for their commitment to work as an MA for a period of two years once they are hired.”
Tuition for the course is $2,599. But few of the students are paying that themselves.
In addition to the hospital paying for its employees to take the course, Eastern Maine Development Corporation is using a federal workforce development grant to cover the cost for those students who meet financial eligibility criteria.
“I’m very proud of this,” Harris said of the MA course and the collaboration that made it possible. “The local adult ed program came together with a local employer, and the money was available. That’s when magic can really happen.”
She said she hopes the course can be offered again.