A few weeks ago, in my role as the Allied Health Associate Professor at Eastern Arizona College’s (EAC) Payson campus, I met with the recruiter for a local health clinic in Payson. I had been so excited to tell someone, ANYONE, about the many offerings that we have at EAC in Payson. It took me a moment to grapple with what she was telling me, but she repeated herself twice stating: “I have six openings right now for medical assistants here in Payson.” Later that day, a friend reached out to me. The office that she works at is looking for a medical assistant to fill the temporary position created over the summer to deal with the surge of sick patients. The next day, another Payson clinic posted a “help wanted” ad for a medical assistant. In the last week, I have again had three different offices reach out to me regarding recruitment of medical assistants.

You may wonder: what is a medical assistant and why does there appear to be a shortage of them in our small town?

A medical assistant (MA) is often the first person to greet you in the doctor’s office. Medical assistants collect patient history and vital signs; they administer medications and work with pharmacies and insurance companies to ensure that patients are getting the care and follow up that they need; they are highly educated regarding the human body in health and disease and pharmacology. MAs are an important part of any physician’s or nurse practitioner’s office. The medical assistants I have worked with in the past were caring, knowledgeable and adaptable.

So why the shortage? Primary care offerings in Payson continue to grow, and as such we need medical assistants to work with our primary care providers. The way that care is being delivered is also continuously evolving. Tele-health for instance is growing. There are some clinics where the physician is not even present except via tele-health screens (like on Facetime or Skype calls), and having a medical assistant in this sort of environment is necessary. Tara Gann, is a local nurse practitioner in town. “There is such a shortage of medical assistants in town. Speaking with other providers in town, they all say that a good MA makes all the difference in a good or bad day at work,” she said.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that medical assistant jobs will continue to grow. In fact, over the next decade we will see at least a 19% increase in demand for medical assistants. The median wage for medical assistants is close to $35,000, with higher rates of pay seen in specialties. While there has been flux in the medical world in the last decade, the need for skilled health care providers has always remained.

I am now faced with an even bigger question: How can I campaign for more Rim Country residents to train and work as medical assistants in our community?

Medical assisting classes at Eastern Arizona College are affordable. EAC partners with the federal government to ensure that those who need assistance paying for school get it. The certificate program itself can be completed in three or four semesters, and once you complete the core classes, you can work in an internship at physicians’ offices throughout the Rim Country. Many students find that they are interested in specialties, and they have an opportunity during this time to see where they fit best. EAC also employs fantastic educators who have worked in the field themselves.

Eastern Arizona College partners with American Medical Technologists to assure the highest standards have been met in training these allied health providers. After completing the certificate requirements, the MA student will sit for the national certifying exam, completing the last step in their endeavors.

If you are looking for a new career in a high demand field which pays a living wage, I invite you to look into Eastern Arizona College’s Medical Assistant program, right here in Payson. I look forward to seeing you grow into the health care provider you have always dreamed of becoming.

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