A program that provides medical assistants with paid work experience in the field of nursing is the best fit for the healthcare workforce, according to a new report from four leading healthcare employers.
The research, released Tuesday by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCAM), is part of a broader effort by four large healthcare companies to improve the medical assistant training pipeline.
The four companies — Anthem, Medtronic, Pfizer and UnitedHealthcare — have been collaborating for nearly two years to create a collaborative effort to build the next generation of medical assistant providers.
The collaboration will culminate in a new certification program in 2018 that will be the first in the country to offer certification to over 300 medical assistants.
The new program is designed to increase the number of trained medical assistants in the U.S. and across the globe, and it could be one of the first to deliver on the promise of medical assistants being the next big step in improving healthcare delivery.
“We have the infrastructure to create an incredibly skilled medical assistant workforce,” said Dr. William Coughlin, co-founder and CEO of Anthem and co-author of the report.
“We have a lot of capacity and a lot to offer.”
The study also found that the healthcare industry has a high rate of nursing vacancies, and that nursing graduates are under-represented among medical assistants who need to work in primary care.
Nursing is often considered an entry-level career for medical assistants, and many medical assistants have not been able to secure positions in primary health care because they lack the knowledge, experience and education to be successful in the profession.
“Nursing graduates are a very high value and one of our key areas of concern for the industry is the shortage of nursing graduates,” said Jennifer J. Smith, cofounder and president of Medtricity.
“There’s a lot more of them [Nurses] who are going to need to move into primary care than there are nurses.”
The report recommends the healthcare organizations hire nursing educators to develop curricula and skills to train medical assistants to work as primary care providers.
They also need to develop training plans to ensure that nurses with nursing degrees can quickly transition to primary care positions.
It also suggests that healthcare organizations start training nursing staff in the primary care setting, and to establish nurse-led training centers to expand the healthcare worker’s education beyond primary care in primary communities.
“In addition to nursing and primary care, we need to focus on the other areas that are underutilized, such as pharmacy and health information technology, which will help us to improve care delivery,” Smith said.
“And finally, we have to focus more on our nurses who are not working in primary, because we are seeing a lot less nurses in primary.”
Smith, who also serves as vice president for business development and innovation at UnitedHealth, said the healthcare companies have a responsibility to work with the medical assistants training community to ensure they are trained in the right ways.
“The way we work together is we are a part of the training continuum,” she said.
“What we need is for the nursing profession to take the lead in training these new graduates, and we have a mandate to do that,” she added.
“That’s what we have done for the past couple of years, and I think that’s what the healthcare sector has to do to create that transition.”
In addition, the report suggests that employers should encourage healthcare professionals to get involved in nursing-related initiatives to build a culture that values and nurtures nursing.
It notes that a study published earlier this year found that more than 70 percent of healthcare workers surveyed had experienced some kind of discrimination during their careers.
It recommends that healthcare workers, as well as the nursing community, develop a “nursing identity” that includes “healthy working practices, an awareness of the value of teamwork and shared responsibility, and positive relationships with the workforce and employers.”
“It is important for healthcare workers to understand that they are not alone in their struggles,” said Smith.
“It’s our responsibility as healthcare providers to help our healthcare workforce become more inclusive, diverse, and engaged.”
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