Medical Assistant students provided an educational jump start
Students in DCTC’s Medical Assisting program can expect to face harrowing days when they enter the workforce. Days that will require them to think quickly, use sound judgment and make life or death decisions. That is why when it comes to training them for the job, instructors Patrice Nadeau and Margaret Noirjean – along with adjunct instructor Kathy Tettam – want to make sure their students are as prepared as possible.
“Our program is rigorous because it needs to be,” said Nadeau. “People’s health and lives are on the line.”
Enrollment in the Medical Assistant program means that students can expect to take an average of 16 credits per semester, spend around 10 hours of week in lab, participate in a practicum and spend an average of 16 hours a week studying. Of course, the academic rigor of Medical Assisting is not unique to that program. Most of DCTC’s programs require a certain degree of intensity so students can learn to think on their feet and be confident in their skills. But not everyone realizes just how demanding programs at community and technical colleges such as DCTC can be.
“The programs offered at DCTC and our sister institutions in the Minnesota State Colleges & Universities system are just as intense as any other college experience, if not more,” said DCTC Dean of Students Greg McCalley. “Many times, students come to a community or technical college thinking it will be a walk in the park, only to find they weren’t prepared for the rigor of the classroom or the challenges of balancing academics with their other obligations
Nadeau first offered up the idea for the Jump Start program at a task force meeting where faculty and staff were working together to find ways to improve the institution. McCalley and a group of student services staff ran with the idea and set to work creating a program that helps better prepare students for life at DCTC. Medical Assistant was chosen for a pilot run since the idea came from one of its instructors and the program had a need.
“Medical Assisting is a great example of what technical education is all about. Students have to focus on their studies outside of class so they are prepared for the classroom work, labs and, eventually, the workforce. However, many don’t realize the commitment that requires and may not be successful as a result,” said McCalley.Leah KingMedical Assistant student Leah King had a sense of what she was getting into, but going through the Jump Start program addressed some of the concerns she had before starting.
“I was really worried about meeting the expectations of my instructors and myself. Jump Start helped diffuse my fears. I got to know the faculty, met a few of my classmates and figured out where things were on campus. It really helped me feel more prepared for being a student again.”
Medical Assistant student and Jump Start participant Amy Schneider echoed King’s sentiments. Schneider was fired up to become a medical professional after having undergone six open heart surgeries and spending a significant amount of time as a patient, but shared King’s fears about what to expect.
“After having a variety of both good and bad medical care through my own health experiences, my goal was to become one of the good health care providers, but I was really nervous about getting to know people and feeling comfortable. I really appreciated that Jump Start gave me the opportunity to get to know the college and my classmates ahead of time. It made the first day of school far less nerve-wracking.”Amy SchneiderPrior to Jump Start, the Medical Assistant program saw around 20 percent of its students drop or simply disappear from the program in the first semester, often times without asking for help or providing an explanation. McCalley and others at the college wanted a chance to help those students. “I felt strongly that a program like Jump Start could have a positive impact on our retention numbers and assist students in choosing the best path for their future.”
Through the Jump Start initiative, a group of 15 of 30 Medical Assistant students convened four weeks prior to the start of classes. They participated in a one-day program that included icebreakers, a discussion about their fears relating to college, personality assessments, conversations about the learning and studying process, a chance to meet their faculty and an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the college and its resources.
In McCalley’s opinion, though, the most important thing that happened was the bond formed among the cohort of students.
“Cohort learning isn’t new, and it already happens at DCTC to some extent because our technical programs are structured so students in a program tend to see each other regularly. The Jump Start program simply formalizes the cohort model and helps those bonds form earlier.”
Medical Assistant Instructor Margaret Noirjean concurs with McCalley’s sentiments.
“The students definitely seemed to have formed relationships faster thanks to Jump Start. We have had students drop out of the program as early as two weeks into the semester, but that simply wasn’t the case this year.”
Following the one-day workshop, students were encouraged to keep their conversations going. One way they have done this is through weekly lunch gatherings where the students not only break bread together, but also hear from a DCTC employee who explains a specific resource available to students such as tutoring, the library, financial aid and more.Nathan TopNathan Top, a Jump Start participant who already holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and spent several years working on the master control at a television station before being laid off, felt the lunch gatherings were one of the most valuable components of the program.
“Having an opportunity to go more in-depth about some of the people and resources available to us was really helpful,” said Top. “It is a component of the program I wish we did more of because I felt like it really connected us to DCTC.”Melissa NunnStudent Melissa Nunn also found a great deal of value in the conversations and resources Jump Start offered her. Nunn is not only a student, but also a wife and mother who must carefully manage her schedule.
“The program pushed me to address things like figuring out daycare and back-up child care, how to plan for 2-3 hours of study time per night while balancing family obligations and relearning how to study. Having that plan has helped me stay on track and juggle all my responsibilities.”
To date, the Jump Start program is considered a success. Three of the fifteen students are looking at other options for the second semester – one is looking at a different program and two are working out personal issues – but those students are still in the Medical Assistant program and its overall retention rate has seen marked improvement.
“Without this program, the three students considering alternatives would have likely disappeared and we may not have known why. Thanks to Jump Start, we know exactly what is happening with those three students and are helping them find the right path,” said McCalley.
“Our focus is on helping students be successful, and this model seems to have some winning elements. We’ll keep expanding this type of program as long as it continues to work for our students.”