Genesis program “grows” its own medical assistants

Genesis Health System faced an ongoing shortage of medical assistants, with no end in sight. Fewer and fewer students were graduating from Quad-Cities training programs. With 40+ vacancies, the time had come to get creative.

Recognizing a need, Genesis focused on its own staff to grow the pipeline of qualified candidates. Genesis launched its own Medical Assistant Student Program in March and, after two cohorts, will graduate 16 students in 2023. The program will continue and expand in 2024.

“We’re excited to extend this opportunity to our own employees who want to advance their careers in the health care,” said Beau Dexter, medical group, eastern division regional vice president. “We have built a program that removes some of the barriers. In turn, we benefit from the talent and professionalism within our own Genesis workforce.”

What attracted Kendra Behrens-Looney, Desiree Johnson and Crystal Wheeler of Genesis to the program?

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Genesis made it easy, providing tuition for the four-month program, certification test scholarships, hands-on skills training, hourly compensation, full-time benefit eligibility, and best of all, guaranteed placement as a medical assistant at Genesis upon program completion.

In short, they could still earn a paycheck without having to juggle the demands of work and school.

The program serves as both a retention and recruitment tool. Students are able to grow within Genesis, instead of seeking opportunities elsewhere. Genesis has found some relief from the challenges of recruiting qualified medical assistants during a nationwide health care workforce shortage.

Career advancement made easy

Before the program, Kendra Behrens-Looney was an office receptionist at Genesis HealthPlex, Davenport, looking to grow in a clinical field. She now works at the same location as a medical assistant for family practice.

“You’re getting a free education and advancing your career,” Behrens-Looney said. “Genesis is investing in their current employees, and it’s good for all of us.”

Crystal Wheeler had been at Genesis 14 years when her leader turned her on to the Genesis Medical Assistant Student Program. Ready for a change and already exploring the medical assistant field, she had the nudge she needed.

“The program was amazing. The most memorable part was meeting Barb Sherbeyn, the program’s leader,” said Wheeler, a medical assistant at Genesis Health Group, Aledo. “Whether you were studying at home or in class, Barb was always there to answer the phone, answer your questions and always willing to be there for you.”

Desiree Johnson had worked in emergency department registration and as a patient care tech in the hospital. She enjoyed the program’s hands-on learning experiences at a variety of Genesis clinics, especially the opportunity to explore her interest in neurology. Today, she is a medical assistant at Genesis Health Group, Neurology.

“The MA program through Genesis offers so much support…everyone is rooting for us everywhere we go,” she said. “Everyone always asked, ‘How can we help you learn? What can we show you?’ It was very hands-on, and you could feel how everyone wanted you to succeed.”

A growing need

Since the COVID pandemic, 50% of medical practices across the nation have reported having to hire alternative staff to cover open medical assistant positions and identified medical assistants as the most difficult position to recruit, according to Medical Group Management Association.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates the need for medical assistants will grow 14% by 2032, nearly five times more than the national average for other occupations.

“Medical assistants provide much-needed support to our Genesis providers and patients. They are a vital part of the Genesis care team,” Dexter concluded. “We’re happy to ‘grow our own’ with the Genesis Medical Assistant Student Program.”

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Linda Barlow is division communications manager for Genesis/MercyOne.