With the immediate threat of Covid-19 subsiding through widespread vaccination across Connecticut, the continuing and longer term effects of the pandemic on employment and community health is being directly addressed by Norwalk Community College.
Through a fast-track, non-credit Registered Medical Assistant Certificate Program, a cohort of 18 students comprised of workers who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 were able to retrain and launch new careers in the medical field. The program was provided free of charge to students thanks to a partnership between the NCC Foundation, Bank of America and Social Venture Partners (SVP), as well as the Connecticut Office of Workforce Strategy.
The Non-Credit Registered Medical Assistant Program was the second iteration of an innovative public-private partnership to quickly retrain displaced or unemployed workers and arrange employment within hospitals for in-demand healthcare jobs. The initial pilot program trained participants as certified nurse aides and was completed in the fall of 2020. Through the program, graduates were able to secure jobs at Stamford, Norwalk, Greenwich, Bridgeport, Norwalk/Nuvance Health and Yale New Haven Hospitals.
Medical assistants are multi-skilled, allied health workers who work primarily in ambulatory care settings such as medical offices and clinics. Medical assistants function as members of the health care delivery team, performing routine clinical and administrative procedures to keep health care delivery settings functioning smoothly.
Like the certified nurse aides before them, upon completing their training and passing licensure exams, students in the Workforce Development and Continuing Education Medical Assistant Program are prepared to immediately begin in new job positions. Partnerships for clinical and hiring arrangements were made in advance with Stamford Hospital and Hartford Healthcare. Additionally, participants benefited from personalized career counseling from Career Resources, a workforce development non-profit based in Bridgeport. In addition, students completing this program, can apply for and obtain credit toward the Nationally Accredited Medical Assistant Associate Degree at NCC.
“We are inspired to build innovative programs that match talented workers with jobs that can benefit from their skillsets. These jobs can grow into lasting careers in the healthcare industry, which needs workers exactly like the individuals we are training at NCC. Participants in the program are creating a new path for themselves and their families. With the help of this program, they have been able to move past some of the personal and professional challenges created by the pandemic,” said Carrie Bernier, President and Chief Executive Officer of the NCC Foundation.
“This is an incredible and powerful group of students who have remained persistent,” said Dr. Kristina Testa-Buzzee, Chief Regional Workforce Development Officer of the Shoreline West Region of Connecticut Community Colleges. “These students took a leap of faith and showed initiative and a desire to expand their horizons. Now they are embarking on careers that have the potential for significant advancement.”
“Amid the coronavirus, Bank of America committed support throughout southern Connecticut to help our most vulnerable populations. And we are proud to serve as a funding catalyst in addressing pressing needs and removing barriers to financial opportunity,” said Bill Tommins, Southern Connecticut market president for Bank of America. “We look forward to seeing our collaborative planning for innovative new workforce training solutions come to fruition. Bank of America is grateful for our partnership with SVP, Career Resources and Norwalk Community College, which will provide employment opportunities to displaced workers in our region.”
Jessica Hartwell, who previously worked in an administrative position at an airport, completed the program and was able to immediately find a medical assistant position at one of Hartford Healthcare Medical Group’s primary care offices in Stratford. “I’m so grateful that this happened,” Jessica said. “I’ve always found joy in helping people and had thought about pursuing a job in the medical field in the past. This offered me a way to do that.” She cited the camaraderie with the other students and the expanded network she gained as another benefit of the program. “With Covid and many of the classes being virtual, it was overwhelming at times. But we were able to connect with each other, and really help and motivate each other to complete the program,” she said.
Students expressed overwhelming gratitude to the program’s funders. “This program has become a platform for me and my family,” said Bertha Guitierrez-Palacios. “The funders’ generosity has created a path to success for me and I’m extremely thankful to them. It has been a tough journey due to Covid and the roadblocks along the way. Now, with the knowledge and practice I have received, I am able to help patients feel well and assist great doctors in their daily routine.”
“This program has given us all the necessary tools and support to help us achieve our goals,” said Milena Cardona. “For me, this program has been about hope. Without the organizations that contributed to the program, this blessing would not have been possible. Their contributions helped us improve our employment opportunities, so we can provide a better future for our families. As medical assistants, we in turn give hope to patients, because we are often the first contact they have as they begin their journey to recovery. This program truly benefits the entire community.”
SVP Partner Bernie Park, RN, DNP, shared, “Hope, perseverance and success perfectly summed up what this educational opportunity provided. It was truly heartwarming to celebrate this milestone accomplishment with the graduating students. All were women of color and many were celebrating with their very young to school age children and families- the population most impacted by the pandemic. All the students shared how this educational opportunity was providing their family a chance for a better future. The love, admiration and bonds formed between the students and their educators was also incredibly powerful. This program demonstrates how empowering women ultimately empowers families. The return on investment is priceless.”
About the Norwalk Community College Foundation
The Norwalk Community College Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that supports expanding access to affordable, quality higher education, the development of a productive workforce, and contributing to the knowledge and well-being of our community by raising funds for Norwalk Community College.
The Foundation works with individuals, major corporations, and local organizations to develop new initiatives and educational partnerships to inspire and engage our community to share talents and resources. With assistance from generous donors, the NCC Foundation provides $3 million annually in scholarships, faculty and program support, and student success initiatives.
Learn more at ncc-foundation.org.