Seven new medical assistants started work at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital (BMH) this week. Eilidh Pederson, vice president of the BMH Medical Group, says they’re stepping into crucial roles. “We have seven vacancies within our medical group, and we have seven Community College of Vermont MAs…they’re coming in with a guaranteed job, ready to roll, and we need that. It’s critical. We can’t provide care to patients without them.”

On Tuesday morning, BMH hosted a graduation ceremony to honor the new medical assistants. They have just completed the College to Careers program, a collaboration between CCV and BMH that prepares students for employment as medical assistants in five intensive months. The initiative launched in 2016 in response to a declining number of qualified healthcare workers. This is the second group to complete the rigorous program, which offers a full scholarship from BMH and a full-time position at the Hospital upon successful completion.

“I’m a little nervous, I won’t lie, but I’m excited,” said student Melissa Buffum. “I’m ready to do this.” Buffum, who is 45, said the program offered the right pathway for her to re-enter the medical field after time away. And like most of the other students here, she is planning to continue her studies and complete an associate degree in medical assisting at CCV.

Swan Perea is also graduating. She and her mother sit together, both wearing colorful scrubs—Perea’s mother has worked at BMH for 19 years. “I’ve been going to work with her since I was little,” explains Perea, who was working in the hospital’s kitchen when she learned of the medical assisting program. “I knew I wanted to be in the medical field, I just didn’t know where to start. I thought it would be a good idea to step up from the kitchen and get my foot in the door.” Perea says she will also continue for her associate degree in medical assisting, and her long-term goal is to become a dental hygienist.

“This is a win-win-win,” said CCV president Joyce Judy. “It’s a win for the participants—they get to do work that they are proud of. It’s a win for the hospital. They’ve invested significantly [in the form of] scholarships, time, and energy to create this program, but they’re also getting good employees. They’re figuring out how to grow their own. And for us at CCV it’s a win. We offered the program and we’re seeing people get jobs as a result. It doesn’t get better.”

While the scholarship recipients commit to employment at BMH for two years, Pederson says workforce development over the long term is a major priority for the Hospital. “We want to employ them for the next 40 years,” she says. “They can make a career out of being a medical assistant or they can take it in many different directions. They can go on and become licensed practical nurse or an RN, a coder or biller, a receptionist or office manager, or even go on to become a physician’s assistant. It really opens the door to them and they can choose to work the next many years as an MA or they can expand on that.”

Leigh Marthe is a Coordinator of Academic Services at CCV-Brattleboro. She works closely with students as an advisor and mentor, and knows their stories well. “There were times when I think many of them didn’t think that they were going to be able to make it…But they did it, and they’re so excited, and they’re so proud of themselves. That’s why we do the work that we do.”

By 9:15 a.m. on Tuesday, the graduates were headed into day two of their new careers. As a few of them donned rain coats and stepped out the door, they shouted goodbyes: “Good luck! Have fun! Make me proud!”

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