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Medical apprenticeship program fills health worker gaps in Idaho

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Clinical preceptors help give apprentices hands-on education, even away from North Idaho College.

It's tough to find workers for Idaho's health clinics right now, but an apprenticeship program is hoping to address these woes. The Idaho Community Health Centers Association is collaborating with North Idaho College and the Idaho Department of Labor on a statewide apprenticeship program where students can earn while they learn. Robin Donovan is with the association.

"We know that there's a huge shortage for medical assistants and dental assistants, and those are a little bit more entry-level positions coming into a clinic. It doesn't require a degree. And so we looked at ways to bring these apprenticeship programs across the state," Donovan said.

Donovan said the goal was to create a program that wouldn't be a burden for their organization or clinics to manage. Since January, one student has graduated from the dental assistant program and six more are expected to graduate this month.

The dental assistant apprenticeship is four and a half months and the medical assistant apprenticeship is eight and a half months. Students not on North Idaho College's campus in Coeur d'Alene work with clinical preceptors, or experienced clinicians in their community. Marty Matney with the North Idaho College workforce training center said the pandemic has shown the school how it can be successful at a distance.

"We're very successful in our medical assistant apprenticeship because we've benefited form COVID, if you can believe that, in that we have learned how to take a program that is largely hands on and put it online," Matney said.

Matney said higher education is adapting post-COVID.

"Higher ed is playing a role right now by being flexible and responding to the needs of the community," said Matney.