On Friday, August 12th, eight Colorado Mountain Medical employees graduated from a new program designed to help non-health care hires grow into careers in the field. The eight graduates have spent their last year working through a Patient Care Technician program that gave them the on-the-job training needed to become certified medical assistants.
Colorado Mountain Medical’s education department initiated the new program last year as a way to address some of the staffing challenges facing the organization during COVID. “COVID really did a number on the health care field; a lot of people really just didn’t want to work through all of that, it became very challenging,” said Katelynne Parks, the lead clinical educator at Colorado Mountain Medical — who was ultimately responsible for building, implementing and running the program. “We did lose people who were older nurses who just didn’t want to be at risk, so we do need a lot of medical assistants.”
In thinking outside the box to fill the most needed roles, Parks saw an opportunity to leverage and train existing staff members that had a desire to do more. According to Parks, a lot of the program’s first-year participants started as front-desk staff that expressed an interest in working on the clinical side of things and transitioned into the patient care technician program. Patient care technicians are non-certified support staff that can help assist in basic medical tasks.
Students in the program are given six months to a year to go through a series of modules that progress their skill sets toward what is needed to become certified as a medical assistant. During the program, the staff members go through three promotion levels (PCT 1, PCT II and PCT III) with the fourth being becoming certified medical assistants after passing the national certification exam.
“We built out a four-step program for them to move through those skills. Each skill I would monitor closely to make sure that they were competent in. They would have a whole skills list and they would go through that, whether it be the training team or who they were shadowing for the day,” Parks said. “The PCTs loved being able to do a little bit more outside of their current scope, which was very limited. We would train them specifically for Colorado Mountain Medical and what we needed our clinical assistants to do differently from other places.”
All of this skills training was provided on the job, meaning that not only were the students working toward — and gaining the skills needed — for the certification, they were being paid to do so. The inaugural class of students was spread across the organization, working in departments such as urgent care, pediatrics, and throughout specialties such as OB-GYN, urology as well as ear, nose and throat.
Parks saw this program as an opportunity to not only train these patient care technicians on the job, but also as a great way to address the organization’s staffing needs as it not only sought to reduce the turnover of current staff by ensuring training, but also incentivize the recruitment of new non-certified staff.
“All of these PCTs are very eager and they’re excited to be given the opportunity to learn,” Parks said. “All of these PCTs have really blown me away in what they are able to do and what they’ve done. They’ve truly helped us with the staffing crisis that we were in. We are looking to bring in a lot more because they were a massive help for us.”
Coming Into Health Care
Among the graduates on Friday was Adriana Moya, who first joined Colorado Mountain Medical as a receptionist in June 2020 after losing her job at the Eagle County airport. Additionally, Moya had also been planning to join the surgical tech program at Colorado Mountain College.
However, when the course was postponed due to COVID-19, she took her interest in working in health care in a different direction, starting at Colorado Mountain Medical with the hope that it would give her some exposure to the organization. Ultimately, the patient care technician program would give her exactly the type of exposure and experience she was looking for.
When Moya first heard about the program from her supervisor, she was immediately intrigued. “It was the fact that you don’t just jump straight into a clinical assistant role,” she said. “You learn as you go the things that clinical assistants do on an everyday basis and I think that was what intrigued me; you weren’t jumping into it, but you were just learning as you go.” Moya said that, for her, this hands-on learning experience played into her strengths. “For me personally, it’s harder for me to learn in a classroom. So to be learning hands-on was a great experience,” she said. Through the program, Moya was able to get a “glimpse into what I could be getting myself into as a clinical assistant once I graduated from the PCT program.”
“A lot of people I feel like want to go into health care. and when they’re in there and they’ve spent all this money to get there, they don’t actually like it,” she said. “But the PCT program slowly brings you to see what the clinic setting is and it doesn’t just jump you right into it, and as you go, you see if you like it or if you don’t.”
For Moya, she discovered that it was something she wanted to pursue. Moya has been working in Colorado Mountain Medical’s OB-GYN department, where Parks said she’s become a “cornerstone.”
For now, Moya will be staying in the department, where she said she’s loved seeing first-hand how the staff builds relationships with their patients. However, the skills she’s gained in the department and through the program, she’ll be able to use if she moves elsewhere in the organization or in health care.
“I feel like the best part of the program was that everybody helped you go at your own pace and the assistants that they would pair you with would help you with what you didn’t understand and if there was something you needed more practice on, they would be happy to get you exposure on. If there was something you weren’t comfortable with, they wouldn’t push you to do it, but would slowly bring you to try new practices out,” she said.
Through the ladder-style patient care technician program, Moya progressed through a number of patient and clinical skills. This started with basics such as taking blood pressure and basic vitals, to learning how to conduct in-house laboratory tests such as glucose and hemoglobin tests to skills such as blood draws and monitoring heart rates with EKGs.
Overall, Moya found that the program was the perfect introduction to health care. “I would recommend it to the people who have maybe have thought about going into health care but don’t exactly know where they want to go or what exactly they wanted to do,” she said. “It just gives you a glimpse of what the health care field has to offer, just regular patient care in a clinic setting, and then this opens up so many doors for your afterward. It just doesn’t stop there.”
While Moya is excited to continue her career as a medical assistant in the organization’s OB-GYN department, she also sees a future where she goes to nursing school and pursues something in Vail Health’s Labor and Delivery department.
Just Getting Started
Not only was the program empowering for the students who participated, but Parks also said it was encouraging for the entire organization. “I’ve seen a lot of people who are very excited. As a company, as a whole, we could not be any more proud of each and every one of these staff members. What they have done and accomplished has truly been remarkable and it has been something that has been so exciting to see,” Parks said. And to see them thrive has been very encouraging.”
Plus, Parks added that it opened up the organization’s eyes to “looking outside the box” when it comes to recruiting and retaining new health care employees. Specifically, Parks said that this program offers a unique opportunity for high school students and recent high school graduates that are over the age of 18. “This allows them to see if the medical field is right for them without putting years of commitment into something, they can see if it’s something they like to do and work through that program and so far, they like it,” she said. “Of course, we always want to hire RNs (registered nurses) and medical assistants and EMTs — that’s our ultimate goal — but looking at the local students and what they can provide for us as a community is encouraging.”
Going forward, Parks said she’s also interested in working with the local school district’s CareerX apprenticeship and career preparedness programming for additional partnership opportunities and employee pipelines. And while she expects that the program will continue to evolve before it’s set in stone, Parks said, “it’s getting there.” Already, Parks has two recently hired patient care technicians that will start the program in August and is encouraging anyone in the community over the age of 18 to apply for the patient care technician program and open positions.
“It’s very simple, all they have to have is a willingness to learn and want to know about the medical field and they can go onto our website and apply for a PCT position, and then they start right away, as soon as they are hired,” she said. “It’s pretty easy for them to get into the program, we don’t ask them to qualify for anything besides that one position.”
To learn more, visit cmmhealth.org and search for patient care technician positions on the organization’s job page.