Increasing knowledge and exceeding goals

By Tom Greene

It’s great when grants do what they’re supposed to do.

And even better when they do more.

In 2018, the Idaho Workforce Development Council awarded the North Idaho College (NIC) Workforce Training Center $207,590 to fund courses in two new, in-demand programs in the healthcare field: Medical Assistant Apprenticeship and Patient Care Technicians. One of the grant’s written goals was to have 54 participants, but the grant finished with 55 participants and two thriving programs that are up and running.

“The project’s success is because of the hard work and vision of area health care employers,” said Dotty Heberer, who was the NIC Workforce Training Center’s project lead. “The goal was to expand the industry’s ability to create registered apprenticeships in health care and address some critical workforce shortages. Thanks to our employer partners, we did that and now have two healthy, sustainable programs.”

Heritage Health, Kaniksu Community Health, Kootenai Health, Northern Idaho Advanced Care Hospital, Northwest Specialty Hospital, Rehabilitation Hospital of the Northwest, and the Idaho Department of Labor were all partners.

The Health Career Pathways Project created opportunities for the participating health care agencies’ existing employees to advance their knowledge in their own workplace. Employers were able to expand their talent pools in critical positions while reinvesting in their own employees. The average wage increase for Patient Care Technicians who participated was 23.2% and the average wage increase for Medical Assistants was 17.6%.

Tanis Davis, 21, is currently a CNA at Kaniksu Community Health. She plans to finish her medical assistant apprenticeship in August.

“I felt like it was a good way to fill out my education without having to go through nursing school,” Davis said. “It was great that my employer was able to give us this opportunity to take the class.”

When the pandemic hit in 2020, the need for healthcare jobs such as CNA, medical assistant and patient care tech increased. But so did some obstacles.

“North Idaho College adapted quickly to the challenges of the pandemic. For example, the medical assistant apprenticeship instructor, Danielle Miller, met students in a parking lot to deliver supplies to their cars. The supplies allowed the students to participate in lab activities at home,” Heberer said.

NIC Workforce Training Center developed other teaching strategies during the pandemic such as incorporating more online learning into the curriculum. Teaming with clinical preceptors, instructors were able to present classroom material online and students performed those clinical tasks under the direction of the preceptor in a competency-based apprenticeship program. This model is particularly beneficial in the medical assistant apprenticeship program.

“The project was a sound solution for employers who needed to fill positions quickly. The apprenticeship model allowed employers to hire immediately and utilize the apprentice as they developed competencies in the accelerated training program,” Heberer said.

Tom Greene

is North Idaho College Workforce Training Center’s marketing and communications coordinator.