October 27, 2020

Portsmouth, NH – Last winter, a group of Great Bay Community College (GBCC) students were excited to begin their Medical Assistant (MA) program and launch a career in healthcare. The program was slated to start in April, and in just 12 weeks it would prepare them for a high-demand job in patient care. But when COVID hit, the students’ journey was disrupted when New Hampshire’s Stay at Home Order closed down business and other facilities across the state.

Like many programs at GBCC, the MA program requires training at a clinical partner site and lab work at the college, alongside classroom instruction to create a learning experience that readies graduates for the workforce. Amid restrictions on clinical partners and access to hands on training, the college faced the challenge of re-tooling to meet students’ educational needs. Educators at GBCC worked closely with clinical sites and restructured lab-based instruction. After a brief pause, GBCC was able to restart the program over the summer. In October, students completed the program and earned their certificates.

“Helping students navigate through a fast-paced, hands-on program such as the MA certificate required much more than just a migration to online learning. We had to work closely with our externship partners to ensure that students could safely be trained on site. And we had to do the same for our labs while building in the online education component so all pieces would be complementary and interconnected over the 12-week period. These students showed great resilience and are so proud to move to the next phase of their careers,” said Bruce Vance, program manager of allied health at GBCC.

Medical assistants are in constant demand since every medical practice needs at least one MA. The need for medical assistants and other healthcare professionals initially gave rise to a partnership between GBCC and Exeter Health Resources/Core Physicians to create a “bootcamp” style providing competency-based training in a short timeframe. Launched in 2015, the boot camp still runs four times a year and serves 40-50 students annually in allied health. From that foundation, the MA certificate was created to focus on the education and training needs for MA certification. Today, numerous healthcare providers across the region – including Exeter Health Resources/Core Physicians, which currently has 44 MA openings – provide externship experience for students.

Karrie Hunter entered the MA program after having taken a career break of over a decade to raise her children. As a student, she participated in a tuition share program created by Exeter Health Resources and was hired ahead of completing the program.

“I love healthcare and have a passion for helping people,” said Hunter. “I chose GBCC’s MA program because I like the interaction with people, helping, clinical skills, taking EKG, weighing people, instructing people and a position as an MA is very structured. I am also able to keep up on my computer skills since so much of that is ingrained in the MA position. The teachers at Great Bay were great and I really enjoyed doing the Zoom classes twice a week,” she said.

Upon completion of the certificate, students have earned the necessary academic credential, learned the on-site training skills and logged the required supervisory hours to sit for the national exam that provides a CCMA (Certified Clinical Medical Assistant) credential. Demand continues to be strong for the program, and a full cohort of students began their training in late October. The program is offered four times through the year and a full schedule for the programs and information sessions can be found online.