Work experience with medical providers prescribed for Indiana County Technology Center students

| Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, 9:31 p.m.

Hands-on, on-site experience gives students in health-related fields an essential taste of the career ahead of them. It can also be a foot in the door for employment.

With that in mind, Indiana County Technology Center has developed an adult education program in medical assisting that offers classroom work followed by an extensive externship with one of several participating health care providers.

According to program supervisor and instructor Beverly Brady, ICTC's medical assisting program is geared toward working adults with evening classes offered. “So it's really nice for those adults who have to work and go to school,” she said.

After a year of classroom work, medical assisting students complete 160 hours in an externship, where they are immersed in the everyday workings of the health field of their interest.

“That's where we have a lot of assistance from Excela Health and our other affiliates with placing our students for their externship,” Brady said.

ICTC has such affiliate agreements with 15 different businesses and practices in an area including Armstrong, Cambria, Indiana, Jefferson and Westmoreland counties. Two of them are major health systems in the area — Excela Health and Indiana Regional Medical Center.

“Medical assistants are one of the top careers in health care right now,” said Cindy Love, generalist in the Excela Health employment center. “We are looking for good medical assistants to become part of our medical practices, and this partnership has really helped us.”

She noted Excela Health recently hired four former students as staff and is looking for more qualified student applicants.

Brady said medical assisting graduates who have completed externships have a high placement rate for jobs.

“We always tell them they have their foot inside the door with these externships,” said Joanne Kablack, allied health program developer at ICTC. “As soon as classroom studies are done, after final exams, I don't think anyone has had to wait to go into an externship because we have such a large number of affiliations.” 

In the classroom, students in the program are taught clinical tasks such as phlebotomy and giving injections. They also brush up on medical billing and coding and computer systems to get them familiar with electronic medical records used in many doctor's offices today.

“It really prepares the student for a wide variety of jobs,” Brady said.

“Medical assistants, they do front office, back office and phlebotomy,” said Love. “They can assist the physician and room patients. They can go up front and take care of the billing and the coding. They're really well-rounded. That really helps with the doctor's office.”

Students have the opportunity to earn certifications through the National Health Career Association, allowing them to become a certified clinical medical assistant or certified phlebotomist. They can also take an exam to become a registered medical assistant through American Medical Technologists, once they have completed the ICTC program.

“These certifications help secure good jobs,” Brady said, noting its a sign for potential employers that students have met the qualifications of the field.

Now in its seventh year, ICTC's medical assisting program attracts anywhere from 12 to 18 students annually, Brady said, noting, “It's a nice small class size, with a lot of hands-on learning, and the instructors are from the field.”

The expertise of the ICTC instructors is something that helped prompt student Brooke Stewart of Indiana to apply for the medical assisting program.

Stewart attended ICTC for cosmetology while she was a student at Saltsburg High School. Before graduating in 2012, she talked with one of the ICTC guidance counselors about her future. When she learned about the medical assisting program, she decided to change her plans and pursue a medical-related career.

“I really care for people,” she said. “I was always a helpful person when I was younger, and I wanted to better my education and get a better job.”

Since entering the medical assisting program in In August, Stewart said she's had no regrets and has been pleased by the level of attention she receives. “The teachers are extremely helpful,” she said. “When it comes to something you don't understand, they take the time to walk you through it instead of rushing ahead.”

Stewart's particular interests lie in phlebotomy, a product of her own propensity for donating blood.

“I give blood every chance I get, and I think it's just really interesting,” she said, noting that she'd like to find work in a hospital, with a blood bank or the American Red Cross.

Stewart is looking forward to the externship phase of the medical assisting program.

“I'm hoping to get a lot more education that will help me in the medical field, help me get where I want to be, which is independent, on my own,” she said. “I think the externships are really helpful. The classroom work only takes you so far — it's getting out there and getting hands-on experience that is really helpful.

“Nobody's going to be perfect at everything. I think the externship will be very helpful when we get out there and get a job, so that we're prepared.”

ICTC's medical assisting class currently meets from 4 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and one Saturday a month.

ICTC is accepting applications for the next class, which will begin in August. To apply, those interested can call 724-349-6700 or e-mail to receive an application. Applicants are required to have a high school diploma or GED equivalency.

Gina DelFavero is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2915 or

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