By: Samantha Malott
Marrianne Hall is going on her 21st year working at MultiCare Rockwood Clinic. There’s a sort of comfort, she says, in working the same type of role for so long. But when the opportunity came to receive her medical assistant (MA) certification with all costs covered by MultiCare — while still being able to work full time — she decided it was time to take the leap.
Over the decades, Hall has worked in reception for internal medicine; scheduling and referrals in general surgery; referrals and checkout at the former Spokane Valley primary care clinic; and, most recently, served as the lead front-end and referrals coordinator for the Liberty Lake primary care clinic.
Hall says she had always wanted to be an MA, if not a nurse. But, when the father of her four children died at an early age, she wasn’t able to quit her job, go back to school and raise four children on her own.
“I kind of came to the conclusion that this is where I was going to be,” she says. “So, when this came along it was wonderful.”
Juliet Storm, BSN, RN, an ambulatory nursing professional development generalist for the MultiCare Center for Clinical Practice and Development, explains that the Sparrow Healthcare Education MA training program allows individuals to complete what is usually a nine-month-to-two-year-long program in 18 weeks. Not only are participants still able to work their regular full-time MultiCare roles during the training, but MultiCare also covered the full cost of the training.
“It started out of a need to find another avenue to bring MAs in because we were struggling with finding anyone, really,” Storm says.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, MultiCare, like many other health care systems across the country, has faced significant staffing shortages, especially among their MAs. Sparrow Healthcare Education, based out of Spokane Valley, was already working with MultiCare Deaconess Hospital to train certified nursing assistants. The first cohort of 10 MAs graduated May 6, 2022, with the next group beginning July 18.
“(Participants) are people who had worked in the medical field and wanted to be an MA but haven’t been able to take the time to do it or afford to go to school,” Storm says. “Others were people interested in the medical field but had gone another path. This program works because you get paid to go to school and work.”
Anna Latoszek, a recent Sparrow MA graduate, had been watching Rockwood Clinic staff at work for the past seven years while managing the Thomas Hammer coffee stand at Rockwood Main. She had loved building connections with the clinic staff, she says, but wanted to have that connection with patients too, to care for them, and to “feel like I’m doing something good.”
“I’ve always wanted to go into the medical field,” she says. “When this program came about it was perfect.”
Latoszek says along with earning her certification, she gained a new confidence in herself, especially with being the new person in a different work environment.
“I didn’t know if I would be able to do it and accomplish something like that. But I did, and that was really exciting,” she says. “It was exciting to actually learn and start understanding the ins and outs of everything, why things are the way they are, and the importance of an MA to get the right information and knowing what to ask and what to look for.”
The training program begins with two weeks of heavy skills-based basics, like learning how to check vitals, room and talk with a patient per Rockwood Clinic’s standards, safe practices, how to use Epic, and so on, Storm explains. Participants then start two days a week in various clinics throughout the region, shadowing other MAs and patient safety leaders until they’re comfortable to begin trying it out on their own.
When not in the clinic, Storm says, students are studying topics like diseases, testing and procedures up until their final certification exam.
“The main difference from a traditional program is that their clinical experience starts much sooner and they’re developing skills over time,” she says. “We make stronger MAs because we’re there, constantly checking in and supporting them. Being in the clinic with the other staff makes a huge difference.”
Hall, who now works as an MA in the same Liberty Lake primary care clinic, says this approach worked well for her because she was able to apply what she was learning to the real-life clinic at the same time, rather than weeks or months later.
“Because I was a CNA years ago, I did remember some things like blood pressure, but it all felt so new. In the very beginning it was almost overwhelming,” she says. “I started it at 60 years old, I was like ‘what am I doing?’ For someone my age to be able to change careers and be able to do something I’ve always wanted to do … Just thank you to Rockwood Clinic for this opportunity. Thank you to everyone who made this happen.”
Latoszek, who works in the endocrinology clinic in the same building as her former coffee stand, says she’s happy she took on this challenge and changed her career path.
“If you want to try something new, just go for it. It’s a really good learning experience for yourself and I think it’s good to gain new experiences and expand your knowledge,” she says. “So, if you’re hesitant, just go for it.”
The next round of applications will open in late 2022 and is open to both current MultiCare employees as well as external candidates. Ten applicants will be selected per cohort. For internal candidates, access the internal job postings in the Employee Resource Center and search “Medical Assistant-Resident Trainee.”
For external candidates, visit the careers site on multicare.org and search for the trainee role. If selected for the Sparrow MA program, participants are onboarded as a regular, full-time MultiCare employee while completing training.
Samantha Malott is the internal communications specialist for the MultiCare Inland Northwest’s marketing team. She brings her love for storytelling from her 5 years of experience in the newspaper industry as a reporter, editor and page designer. She is a proud Washington State University Cougar and an Eatonville native.
By: Samantha Malott