Editor’s note: Apprenticeships are an important option in education these days—especially in the health care field. There’s a nationwide shortage of skilled health care workers, and Colorado is no exception.

Front Range Community College (FRCC) recently created a new medical assisting apprenticeship in partnership with Associates in Family Medicine in Fort Collins. It’s part of a broader effort to create more internships and apprenticeships in the communities we serve.

National Apprenticeship Week (November 11-17) aims to showcase the impact apprenticeship programs have on closing the U.S. skills gap and preparing the American workforce. Below is a guest post from recent FRCC student Laura Seitz who tells us what it’s like to be a medical assisting apprentice in the college’s new program.

How FRCC’s Apprenticeship Works

The new partnership between FRCC and Associates in Family Medicine (AFM), which started about a year ago, is one of the first of its kind in the country. Students in the college’s medical assisting program take a semester of classes on FRCC’s Larimer campus to do their initial classroom learning. (They take classes such as anatomy, physiology, medical terminology and office financial administration.)

Then students who are chosen to participate in the apprenticeship program start work at AFM. Their supervisors and colleagues provide hands-on learning while the apprentices get paid for working. When a student successfully completes the program, they have a nationally recognized credential for medical assisting (from the U.S. Department of Labor), a diploma from FRCC—and continued employment with AFM.

A Student’s Perspective: Laura Seitz

Before starting this program I had not heard of any apprenticeship opportunities in the area. I had completed internships with my previous degree, but never had the opportunity to get the hands-on experience that this apprenticeship provided. I was able to learn on the job, which was great.

I already had a degree in elementary education, and had worked as a teacher for a couple of years. Teaching didn’t seem to be quite the right fit—and I decided that I wanted to pursue something new.

I enjoy being in a profession where I can care for others. I had considered going into nursing in the past, and decided to pursue the medical assisting program as a way to get my feet wet. I found out that a new program was starting at Front Range, and I started classes the very next week—so it was all a bit of a whirlwind.

Then I found out about the apprenticeship opportunity. I had just started the medical assisting program, and students in our cohort were given the opportunity to interview for an apprentice position. At first I wasn’t sure if I was going to apply, but I’m very glad I did. It seemed like a good way to get real-life experience as a medical assistant before applying for a “real job.” They were only able to take on two apprentices at a time, so it was an honor to be chosen.

A Day in the Life of an Apprentice

Laura Seitz holding her new certification at Associates in Family Medicine. (Others pictured left to right: RN Molly Wilson, Clinical Services Director Ryan Bluth and Nurse Manager Lucinda Womack.)

When I first started at AFM, the other apprentice and I did some classes to establish our background knowledge. We were slowly introduced to working on the floor—at first just an hour at a time. Then gradually we got more experience working with real patients.

We continued to take classes through Front Range (usually in the afternoon after spending the morning working at AFM). It was a busy schedule, but it was manageable. While we were at AFM we also continued to do classes there, so that we could learn how to perform certain procedures. 

We also shadowed staff members and helped them out—so we were able to apply the skills we were learning. We would watch another staff member do something a couple of times—such as giving vaccines—and then we got the chance to try that skill ourselves. We always had someone with us in case we had questions, but were eventually skilled enough to work on our own. 

The hands-on experience was great, and then we graduated to full-time employees. It is one of the best ways to learn, and I’m so glad I was able to complete the apprenticeship.

A Great Future Ahead

It was definitely a busy time in life, but overall it was really great. I learned a lot from the experience and I was well prepared to step into a full-time position as a medical assistant at AFM with confidence. I have a full-time job because of this opportunity. I acquired so many new skills through this program and I really enjoy my new career.

I think apprenticeships are a great way to go. They provide so many practical skills and are a great way to train employees. I had a wonderful opportunity to learn through mentors and try new things before starting on my own as a brand-new medical assistant. It really helped to have the time to soak up the knowledge, and get to have so many hands-on experiences during this time. I really loved the program!

Employers Benefit, Too

There’s a shortage of medical assistants in the U.S.—and the profession has a 27% anticipated growth rate over next six years. In northern Colorado, there are currently hundreds of open positions.

That means the medical assisting apprenticeship at FRCC isn’t just a way for students to get on-the-job training to land a well-paying, stable job. It’s also a way for employers to help fill the gap in their own workforce, and train upcoming staff to meet their own needs.

More Apprenticeships to Come

FRCC has a great partner in Associates in Family Medicine (AFM)—but that’s just the beginning as far as the college is concerned. FRCC has already established apprenticeship programs in a handful of other fields—and the college hopes to expand these offerings into additional areas of study. The long-term goal is to partner with many other businesses in the state to provide these career training opportunities to more of our students.

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