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Hospital, college partner to fill staffing gaps

Full scholarships and guaranteed jobs are part of a joint venture between Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and Community College of Vermont

BRATTLEBORO—At age 21, Brittany Allard believes she may have found her niche.

The Brattleboro resident is a member of the first class graduating from an accelerated medical assistant training program — the result of a new collaboration between Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and Community College of Vermont.

Hospital and college administrators tout the 14-week program as an innovative way to meet workforce needs, since the Hospital offered full scholarships to eight students and guaranteed that they would have jobs upon completing their coursework.

For students like Allard, it was a quick way to get into a field she had always been interested in — without worrying about a job search.

“At the end of it, we were going to be working,” she said. “That’s kind of what got me through it, knowing that there’s such a good outcome.”

An elegant solution

Workforce shortages are a common complaint among health care executives, and many institutions offer hiring bonuses and other incentives to try to fill their ranks.

In Brattleboro, hospital administrators saw a specific need for medical assistants who could work in outpatient practices. There were few applicants, and those who did apply “weren’t necessarily trained in the outpatient world,” said Eilidh Pederson, executive director of BMH Medical Group.

That started a conversation between the hospital and the community college.

“You hear a lot, you read a lot about how businesses and higher education institutions need to work together more,” CCV President Joyce Judy said. “This is a perfect example of coming together, sitting down, listening to what the needs of the hospital are and also what we could provide. And then coming together and really developing a program that works for students.”

That program is an intensive, five-course offering designed to funnel a select group of students directly into the hospital’s workforce. Of the eight students whose fall tuition was paid by the hospital, “they all did very well in the program, and they all will be hired with us,” Pederson said. “They start work Jan. 16.”

On Dec. 16, several of those students gathered in a hospital conference room to celebrate and receive their formal offer of employment.

But that doesn’t end their affiliation with the community college. All have committed to continuing their studies and working toward an associate’s degree on a schedule tailored to the fact that they’ll be working.

“They designed night classes for us to be able to take,” said Alayna Spear, a Brattleboro resident who completed the fall program and is starting work as a medical assistant next month.

Good for enrollment and publicity

Administrators say there have been clear benefits for the community college.

The most obvious is higher enrollment. There are now 25 students in the medical assistant associate’s degree curriculum, and some of those students were attracted to that program due to the new partnership with BMH, said Leigh Marthe, the college’s academic services coordinator.

“We’ve gained students out of this process that we may never have gotten before,” Marthe said.

Furthermore, it’s been valuable publicity for a college that has increased its local visibility by relocating in 2014 to Brooks House in downtown Brattleboro.

It’s not the first time Community College of Vermont has worked with businesses. Judy said the college partners with hospitals who host interns, for example, and she noted that CCV has a certified production technician program designed to train workers for manufacturers.

But the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital affiliation is unique, especially since the hospital paid tuition.

Steve Gordon, BMH’s chief executive officer, commended college staff for putting together a new program “in record time.”

“It’s a very unique partnership where a local community business works with a local community college,” Gordon said.

Gordon predicted that the program will continue in some form next fall, though details haven’t yet been worked out.

By then, students like Allard and Spear will have months of experience as medical assistants. While Allard is getting her introduction to the medical field, Spear is transitioning to a new role at the hospital after working in patient registration in the emergency room.

“I’ve always been interested in a health career, but I wasn’t sure whether I would prefer the administrative or clinical,” Spear said as the Dec. 16 ceremony wound down. “The longer I was doing [emergency room registration], the more I realized that I was really looking for clinical experience.

“This came about, and it seemed to be the perfect opportunity.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #388 (Wednesday, December 21, 2016). This story appeared on page A2.

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