This fall, Great Bay will be welcoming its 27th cohort since the program began in 2015.
PORTSMOUTH – Great Bay Community College will welcome its next cohort of medical assistant students beginning Sept. 26. This marks the 27th cohort since the program began in 2015. Twelve weeks later, those students will be gainfully employed in medical office and hospital settings across the Seacoast.
“The demand for medical assistants far outstrips the supply,” said Bruce Vance, Program Manager for Healthcare Programs at Great Bay’s Business and Training Center, which administers the Medical Assistant Training Program.
Laurie Merrick, who helps recruit students for the popular program in her role as Business and Training Center assistant, said many students are offered jobs directly from their externships. “If someone signs up for the September class, they will be employed and have a new career by the end of the year,” Merrick said. “We are constantly getting requests for our medical assistant students.”
Medical assistants record and update medical histories and contact information of patients, schedule appointments and draw blood, check vital signs, and collect lab samples. They are often the medical professional a patient interacts with in an exam room before the doctor, collecting information about the patient to help the doctor prepare for the exam. They must have good technical and interpersonal skills and be detailed-oriented.
Students who successfully complete the Great Bay program will be versed in medical terminology, human anatomy and physiology, technical aspects of phlebotomy, pharmacology, cardiac life cycle, the proper use and administration of medications, how to obtain and document vital signs, and how to access and record information in electronic medical records.
The program includes 320 hours of classroom instruction and hands-on lab experience, as well as 160 hours of practice and education in local medical offices. After completing the program and receiving their certificate from Great Bay, students are eligible to take the National Health Career Association Certified Clinical Medical Assistant exam. Historically, more than 90 percent of Great Bay students are employed immediately after completing the program, and that percentage is higher now because of demand and historically low unemployment rates.
Up to two-thirds of the students participating in the program are hired as apprentices with their tuition paid by their employers. Great Bay has partnerships with Lamprey Healthcare, Greater Seacoast Healthcare, Appledore Medical Group, Wentworth Douglass Hospital, and others.
“These partnerships are very valuable, as they represent a win-win scenario,” Vance said. “Great Bay wins because it’s a boost to our enrollment, and our partners win because they don’t need to compete for a very limited number of medical assistants. And most importantly, the students win because they know they have a job upon completion of our program.”
Lauri Smith of York, Maine, is currently enrolled in the program through a Great Bay’s partnerships and will begin her new career in September. “I am starting a new chapter in my life, and Great Bay and has given that to me,” said Smith, 58, who moved to area from Illinois to care for her aging parents. “I have a whole other lifetime left. It’s a win-win, and so much more than I expected.”
After being away from school for more than 20 years, she has found Great Bay to be accommodating and supportive. “I can’t say enough about Great Bay. The instructors, the staff, they have all been great. If you have a question, they answer it. If you have confusion, they clear it up,” Smith said. “Everyone is positive and welcoming, and I feel blessed to be here – and I want to do better because of that.”
Alannah Kunde completed the Great Bay program in 2015 and now works as a medical assistant at the Center for Wellbeing in Portsmouth. “Great Bay was the steppingstone I needed to start my career. I was very eager to join the workforce full time, and the speed of the accelerated program helped keep the finish line in sight. When you attend class for 40 hours a week, you build a close relationship with your teachers and classmates. It always felt like our teachers were rooting for us and were proud of us. For me, this was huge because I always felt supported and knew I had the tools I needed to succeed,” she said.
Kendra Dow of Rochester enrolled in the program in September 2021, completed her externship at Rochester Hill Family Practice, and was hired soon after. She envisions the program as a steppingstone to a career as a nurse.
“The medical assistant program was a quick course, which was good for me because I am a single mom of two. I was able to take my courses and complete my externship while they were at school,” Dow said. “I liked the program because I was able to gain a better sense of the medical field, learn more in depth of what it entails, and I’m now able to work more hands-on while being able to document and work side-by-side with providers.”
Vance said the soul and core success of the Medical Assistant Training Program is the diversity and commitment of the students. “Our students range in age from 19 into their 50s. Their backgrounds may or may not be in healthcare. We see those who have earned their GED and those who have earned their bachelor’s degree and plan on pursuing a career as a doctor or physician’s assistant,” he said.
Great Bay Community College is a comprehensive postsecondary institution offering quality academic and professional and technical education in support of workforce development and lifelong learning. Great Bay Community College is part of the Community College System of New Hampshire, a public system of higher education consisting of seven colleges in Berlin, Claremont, Laconia, Concord, Manchester, Nashua, and Portsmouth. The colleges offer Associate degrees and career training in technical, professional and general fields, including transfer pathways to baccalaureate degrees. For more information on Great Bay Community College, visit www.greatbay.edu.