Cone Health needed medical assistants. An internal program is closing the staffing gap.

When Greensboro, N.C.-based Cone Health could not find enough certified medical assistants to hire from outside the organization, it began to look at internal options.  

The result was the creation of CMA Academy to train employees of the health system. The program, which began as a 12-month effort and has moved to a six-month program, allows workers in clinical and nonclinical areas to achieve certification through the certifying board of the National Healthcareer Association.

"We were driven like everybody else [by] a need for staffing," Maria Busam, clinical education and competency manager at Cone Health Medical Group, told Becker's. "There were very few CMAs coming out of the schools around our hospital system that we were able to hire."

CMA Academy began last year, and six workers recently graduated from the program. All six passed the certification exam.

Ms. Busam said the program has been successful as it has evolved, although there were challenges in the beginning of the rollout last year, such as a short three-month deadline to get the program running.

"It takes a village," she said. "I am very lucky to have peers that work in other departments such as heart care or GI and other offices, other education leaders in our hospital system who were able to volunteer their time to come teach classes within the program." 

Ms. Busam said Cone Health also looked for ways to motivate the six inaugural students and discovered they wanted to incorporate games into the learning process. One of the games they played was a game like the style of the TV show Survivor

"These were pretest games, where if you missed the answer, you had to try one of the mystery fruits or foods based on what card you drew," Ms. Busam said. "And these are adult learners, some of them my age or older than me, and they absolutely loved this." 

Cone Health, which has more than 13,000 total employees, employs about 400 medical assistants and sees a continued need to increase that number.  

Across the U.S., about 104,400 openings for medical assistants are projected annually, on average, from 2020 to 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bureau said many of those openings are anticipated because of the need to replace workers who move to change occupations or leave the workforce altogether, such as for retirement.

To continue to increase its roster of medical assistants, Cone Health has selected 18 students for its next CMA Academy class, which begins Aug. 1. Ms. Busam said those students are employees of Cone Health, but the health system's goal is to expand CMA Academy to include people from outside of the organization.

Her advice for other health systems looking to begin similar training programs: "Make sure that you have people supporting you, leaders that support you like we did. We were very lucky to have leaders across the system that were really ready to help us out with it."

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