Medical Assistant Academy Prepares Employees for New Careers

When Nyre Tilghman went back to school as part of a career change, she didn’t have to worry about how she would juggle her time in the classroom and at work. That’s because for Tilghman and the other participants in ChristianaCare’s Medical Assistant Academy, attending classes at Delaware Technical Community College was part of the job.

Nyre Tilghman wanted to explore the outpatient side of health care, so she took a career leap with ChristianaCare’s Medical Assistant Academy.

Tilghman and her classmates — all caregivers previously working in different departments across ChristianaCare — continued to earn a paycheck as they learned how to handle the myriad tasks required of medical assistants, including taking vital signs, drawing blood, giving immunizations, scheduling appointments and filling out insurance forms. Clinical rotations within ChristianaCare primary care offices helped them hone their new skills.

Tilghman passed the certified medical assistant exam and joined ChristianaCare Primary Care at Darley Green in 2022. Now working on a different side of the patient care journey, she is grateful to ChristianaCare for helping her take the career leap.

“I think that the Medical Assistant Academy is a great opportunity for employees looking for a career change,” Tilghman said.

“It provided me with the chance to grow within the company instead of seeking the opportunity elsewhere. It also showed that ChristianaCare values and wants to support their employees’ development.”

Meeting the need for more medical assistants

A growing demand for health care services, coupled with a changing workforce, has resulted in a shortage of medical assistants and other allied health workers across the country. The need for medical assistants is expected to grow 14% by 2032, nearly five times more than the national average for other occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The second cohort of caregivers graduated from the Medical Assistant Academy in April 2023 and were hired throughout ChristianaCare.

ChristianaCare is among a growing number of health systems developing innovative partnerships designed to build and retain this important contingent of caregivers. The Medical Assistant Academy, formerly known as the Medical Assistant University, recently started its third cohort, with 10 caregivers who will spend 180 hours in the classroom, followed by a 40-hour clinical internship.

“The Medical Assistant Academy is a great opportunity for employees looking for a career change.

“It provided me with the chance to grow within the company instead of seeking the opportunity elsewhere.”

— Nyre Tilghman

The program, created by the ChristianaCare Medical Group in partnership with Del Tech, has graduated 18 medical assistants since 2021, said Laurie Domiano, BHA, CMA, medical assistant training and development manager for ChristianaCare. She and Alicia Leeks, medical assistant training coordinator, oversee the program for ChristianaCare’s Medical Group.

“Medical assistants are the largest frontline population of workers. It’s a population that goes a little unsung in the hospital and ambulatory care,” said Domiano, noting there are 480 medical assistants in the Medical Group, which sees thousands of patients each day in the outpatient setting.

Opportunity for advancement

From the beginning, the program has focused on attracting caregivers in roles that are not clinical — such as environmental services, telephone operators and patient escorts — but who might be interested in taking on a new challenge.

“We really want caregivers who already know our ChristianaCare values and culture,” Domiano said.

“It’s really developing career opportunities for people who can’t work part-time and go to school or who don’t have the time to work 40 hours a week and then go to school at night and on the weekends, especially if they have a family.”

Ciara Shaw said she wanted to elevate herself in health care so she became a certified medical assistant.

Ciara Shaw aspired to become a medical assistant while working as a patient care technician at Wilmington Hospital, but she struggled with the competing demands of work and school. Being accepted into the Medical Assistant Academy solved the problem.

“Becoming an MA has inspired me to continue my education to gain more knowledge within the health care field,” said Shaw, who works at ChristianaCare Primary Care at Greenville.

New year, new name

Cynthia Griffin, MS, BSN, RN, CPHQ, CCM

In addition to its new name, the Medical Assistant Academy has an updated, 12-week curriculum as part of an effort to use resources wisely and accommodate the caregivers enrolled in the highly competitive program.

“Medical Assistant Academy is an innovative program that is helping us to meet the needs for medical assistants in our practices,” said Cynthia Griffin, MS, BSN, RN, CPHQ, CCM, chief nursing officer of Community Care.

“The program is a recruitment tool as well as a retention tool because it opens up a rewarding new career option for our caregivers. At the same time, by training and retaining more medical assistants, we’re improving access to care in our community.”

Growing the field

Higher education institutions are increasingly working on ways to add to the health care workforce. At Delaware Technical Community College, courses for medical assistants are run every semester to provide students with the flexibility they need, including different learning formats and times of day, said Jennifer Miller, BS, CMA, department chair of the medical assistant program at Del Tech.

The school, which has between 40 and 50 medical assistant students each semester, also is opening an Allied Health Center of Excellence.

Andrea Smith earned a medical assistant diploma through the partnership with Delaware Technical Community College and ChristianaCare. Photo courtesy of Delaware Technical Community College.

Programs like the Medical Assistant Academy provide a valuable way to advance qualified employees through training that also helps them grow their career. Domiano said three caregivers from the previous two cohorts went back and completed their associate degrees after finishing the medical assistant program.

“For a lot of our students, what they want to do they want to get their foot in the door, and Medical Assistant Academy is one way to do that,” Miller said.

Now firmly settled into her role as medical assistant, Tilghman has transitioned from student to mentor. Stacey Bradford, practice manager at Darley Green, said Tilghman happily stepped up to help a student from last year’s class develop the skills needed for success.

“Nyre has become a vital part of the success of our team here at Darley Green,” Bradford said.