A Case Study for Setting A New Standard For Learners
Contributors: Robert Curran, D.C. and Hannah Weinstock, executive director workforce development, Division of Adult and Continuing Education, LaGuardia Community College
The wild success of a new program piloted by LaGuardia Community College and its partners — NYC Department of Small Business Services and the Washington Heights Workforce1 Career Center — is catching the attention of employers, students and medical assistant education programs throughout the country.
A total of 40 immigrant New Yorkers graduated from LaGuardia’s first English Language Learners Medical Assistant Training Program* with an astounding 100% pass rate on not just one, but three NHA exams — for medical assisting, phlebotomy and EKG.
These highly successful students wouldn’t have been able to complete a typical MA program. Likely, they would have had to take a couple years of English classes first, then decide on a career path and hope something worked out.
But at LaGuardia, the new program combines advanced English curriculum with workforce training programs, creating a more accelerated path to employment that benefits the students, the school, employers and ultimately, patients.
Students with barriers to employment are gaining access to quality education. LaGuardia Community College has a waiting list of of people wanting to get into the program (just from word of mouth!). Employers are getting the bilingual MAs with the technical skills, soft skills and cultural knowledge they are seeking. And patients are getting better care thanks to MAs who speak their native language.
“As patient care providers, we want and need accurate information,” says Dr. Robert Curran, Clinical Coordinator, Medical Assistant Training. “When patients are talking to staff in their native language, the providers will get the most accurate information, things won’t get neglected and nothing gets lost in translation.”
How the Program is Structured
Instead of just taking English classes, the students’ English coursework is contextualized for medical training. The more technical medical assistants training is gradually woven in, but it is all treated as one cohesive curriculum rather than separate programs. Cultural competency, conflict de-escalation patient-centered quality care are also addressed, so it’s much more than just hard skills that are covered when it comes to the medical assistant training.
Keys to the Program’s Success
LaGuardia attributes its success to everyone involved — partners, staff, the employers they spent so much time talking to, and perhaps most notably, the students.
“The dedication of the students was really inspiring throughout the program,” Dr. Curran says. “There was almost zero lateness and almost zero absence which is unheard of in any program I’ve ever been affiliated with.”
The students are prepared with NHA materials, and Dr. Curran says the coursework is “NHA-guided and employer-informed,” as they spend a great deal of time talking to employers to determine what will make them hire one graduate over another; what they actually need in the always-changing field.
Why Employers and Patients Benefit
Medical assistants who are bilingual and have both the hard skills of medical assisting and soft skills like cultural competency are very attractive to employers, especially in a place like New York City, where just 51% of the population speaks English at home.
“It makes the patient feel more comfortable and helps them understand that their concerns are going to be addressed, which is what I want as a provider and it’s what the employers tell us is in demand,” says Dr. Curran.
Dr. Curran also says that employers appreciate the NHA certifications on the graduates’ resumes. “NHA has been a very reliable partner in health careers training for many years. It is a standard that employees look for in a graduate. It’s an organization that employers recognize immediately.”
Insights for All MA Programs
A big takeaway for all MA programs — not just those that serve English language learners — is to understand the needs of both the students and the employers, and implement changes based on those findings. “Sometimes as educators we get so busy or we just do things the way they’ve always been done and we don’t realize that things have changed in the industry,” says Hannah Weinstock, Executive Director, Workforce Development Division of Adult and Continuing Education. “You have to update your curriculum … you have to be out there talking to employers.”
*Please note that NHA certification exams and exam preparation are only available in English.