Health care industry promotes learning on the job to grow staff |

Health care industry promotes learning on the job to grow staff

Craig resident Dajia Lewis, left, is learning while working at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center through the Patient Care Assistant program that helps to introduce individuals to the medical professional. Sarah Delgado, nursing assistant certified lead, tutors Lewis on a vitals monitor in an empty patient room.
Suzie Romig/Steamboat Pilot & Today

After two months on the job in the Patient Care Assistant program at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, 22-year-old Dajia Lewis is thinking about the possibility of attending nursing school.

The Moffat County High School graduate said she loves learning but has never been great at formal academic testing. That is why the program of hands-on learning while being paid on the job in Steamboat Springs was so appealing to her as an entrée into the medical profession. Three days a week for 12-hour days, she is learning while shadowing an instructor or nurse about everything from tips to ease nervous surgical patients to the removal of an IV or catheter.

“It’s a good way to get your foot in the door. This is a definite good first step,” Lewis said. “You learn a lot, and everyone is really nice and helpful.”

The Patient Care Assistant program is designed for workers 18 and older with no medical certification or health care experience required and starts with six weeks of on-the-job training. The program through UCHealth is just one way the medical profession is working to grow its own employees in an era of staffing shortages as the U.S. population ages and needs more medical services.

“It’s nice to be able to learn as you go,” said Lewis, who was hired full time in October after starting in August. “It’s really a lot of teamwork, and I think that’s a good work environment to be in.”

Judy Davidson, UCHealth nursing support program coordinator, noted in a UCHealth media release that nursing assistants provide approximately 70% of direct patient care in hospital settings.

“We realized we could train people with little to no experience in our own environment, allowing them to get hands-on clinical experience to meet the needs of hospitalized patients and interdisciplinary teams. When units have enough PCAs and CNAs to meet patients’ care needs, nurses are able to focus on their patient’s medical needs,” said Davidson, noting well-staffed medical units help reduce burnout and turnover of nursing staff.

Steamboat Springs High School graduate Christina Pryce found her professional passion through the SSHS Med Prep program and now works as an x-ray technologist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.
UCHealth/Courtesy photo

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for registered nurses is expected to grow by 6% through 2031, and that is in addition to a significant number of nurses who left the profession during COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the launch of the PCA program in November 2021, participation has grown to approximately 200 assistants learning on the job across the 12-hospital UCHealth system.

Another longtime program that helps to introduce teens to the medical profession is Med Prep through Steamboat Springs High School. Med Prep students can participate in 15-hour rotations in a wide variety of YVMC departments ranging from pharmacy to physical therapy, from obstetrics to the emergency department.

Former Med Prep student Christina Pryce found her professional passion through the program and now works as an X-ray technologist at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

“I ended up being really fascinated by radiology and being able to look inside of a human body with just the touch of a button,” said Pryce, who graduated from SSHS in 2017. “After my rotation through the radiology department, I knew that this was what I wanted to do. The techs that I shadowed with in radiology were really great mentors who didn’t hesitate to explain how everything worked. Now, some of them are my co-workers who continue to help me become better every day.”

Maddie Labor, a 2016 SSHS graduate, calls the Med Prep program “an incredible and unique experience.” Labor currently works at Steamboat Orthopaedic & Spine Institute as a medical and research assistant and scribe, and she has been accepted into medical school to start in July 2023 with hopes of becoming a pediatric orthopedic surgeon.

Kipp Rillos, former teacher of the SSHS Med Prep class from 2010 to 2021, estimates more than half of the students who completed the program are studying or working in health care currently.

Med Prep grew in popularity through the years and now has 18 students in the senior year internship class, teacher Randy Homan said. Shadowing opportunities have expanded into other health care areas such as EMS, ski patrol, and veterinarian and surgical offices.

Another avenue to develop medical professionals in house is the new UCHealth Ascend Career Program that started in February. The program helps employees continue working but receive financial assistance for continued education to advance in their health care careers. The UCHealth system is helping to cover the cost of select clinical certifications, learning programs and college degrees for employees, ranging from a medical assistant certification to a master’s degree in social work.

“Currently, we have multiple staff working at YVMC while advancing their education through the Ascend Career Program and other tuition assistance and reimbursement programs that are available,” said Mary Wirta, YVMC human resources manager. “These programs are a significant investment by UCHealth and one that is positively impacting our recruitment and retention efforts.”

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