Toledo area programs seek to fill demand for health care workers

South Toledo resident Sam Adams’ Type 1 diabetes diagnosis, and his ensuing interactions with the health-care system, made him want to help others navigate their own often confusing and complicated efforts to obtain care.

And, after a stint at Bowling Green State University where he “didn’t take things as seriously as [he] should have,” and a decade running his own business, he realized he needed a career change. Mr. Adams, 35, found the community health worker certificate program at Mercy College of Ohio, one of several short-term, nondegree tracks aimed at getting students quickly into the work force.


Sam Adams, a community health worker at the Mercy Health Franklin Avenue Medical Center, left, shakes hands with client Joshua Ropp, after assisting and then providing him with goods from the food bank.


THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY

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The programs are short — one to three semesters — and include phlebotomy, emergency medical technician, and paramedic training, as well as medical coding.

Christopher Gibbons, director of health-care administration and allied health certificates at Mercy College of Ohio, said the changing nature of health care has created opportunities in the field beyond the traditional clinical professions, such as physicians and nurses, that people think of first.

“They are a great entryway into health care, a couple semesters or less,” he said. “It’s a nice entryway to get a job that is meaningful and get your foot in the door.”

Phlebotomy jobs are projected to grow 25 percent from 2014 to 2024, according to U.S. Department of Labor; EMT and paramedic positions are projected to grow 24 percent; and community health worker jobs 13 percent. The labor department reported that the U.S. economy added 39,000 jobs in health care in July.

And at a time when Ohioans carry an estimated $19 billion in outstanding federal student loan debt, according to a 2016 White House report, getting a good return on tuition investment is a big concern for many, Mr. Gibbons said.

That’s what draws a lot of students to the health-care certificate programs at Owens Community College, said Catherine Ford, dean of the School of Nursing and Health Professions at Owens.

“It’s not as much of a time commitment and there is generally a job waiting for them upon successful completion of the program,” she said.

Mercy College is located in Toledo at 2221 Madison Ave., and operates a school in Youngstown. Owens is based in Perrysburg Township.

Changes in industry needs and personal preferences factor into program choices, Mr. Gibbons said. Adrenaline-lovers might find satisfaction in the paramedic program, while night owls might gravitate to the polysomnographic technology certificate, where students learn how to prepare patients for sleep studies.

The college saw a spike in interest in the medical coding program as hospitals made the shift to electronic health records.

The certificate programs often draw nontraditional students, he said, people who have been out of school for a while or are changing careers. They work well for students who can’t commit the time or financial resources for two or four-year degree programs.

“In general, they are going to be someone who has been working and needs a change, or has gone to a larger [higher education] institution and found that this is not aligning with what they need to do,” Mr. Gibbons said of the student population. “Many of them are working and have family obligations. We try to design our programs around that.”

Ms. Ford said many students who select short-term programs enter the field and use it as a stepping stone to more school or other certifications. Because of the programs’ short duration and hands-on focus, students are familiarized with what their career could look like.

“[Students see] what their daily work is going to be like early in the program and can decide early if it’s going to be a good fit,” she said. “They get that experience right up front working in a patient-care setting.”

Dental assistant, licensed practical nurse, and medical coding programs are the most popular, she said.

Vital community link

The evening class schedule of his community health worker program, Mr. Adams said, allowed him to continue working jobs with Toledo Jeep and in retail while he went to school. He now works at Mercy Health-Franklin Avenue Medical Center after receiving three job offers before he graduated in April.

In working with clients to reduce barriers to better health and better management of chronic disease, Mr. Adams said he found a job that is both stable and rewarding.

“You’re in the field and you’re a vital link in the health-care community,” he said “You’re making good money right away. This is the way to go.”

Donna Walker, of Fremont, found herself looking for a year-round career after a divorce and more than a decade working in a school cafeteria .

“I wanted to obtain a skill so I could market myself,” she said.

Now 58, Ms. Walker said she found a certificate program after talking with her sister-in-law, who completed different certificate track at Mercy College.

“Honestly, it was the short term [commitment] that caught my attention,” she said. “I had been taking classes here and there and never coming out with anything.”

The ophthalmic technology program attracted her because of its consistent daytime hours. She now works at Maumee Eye Clinic and would recommend the program to others.

“If you can complete it, you can come out with the skill,” she said. “It’s very satisfying to work with people every day.”

Tim Christman, program director for the EMT/​paramedic, community-health worker, and phlebotomy programs at Mercy College, said there has been a push to introduce younger students, including high schoolers looking for their next step, to such programs.

“People are looking for something that is one or two or three semesters that has a certificate to practice these types of field,” he said. “It might be the job of their life or a stepping stone to go on.”

For more information about the training programs, visit mercycollege.edu/​academics/​certificates or owens.edu/​sonhp.

Contact Lauren Lindstrom at llindstrom@theblade.com, 419-724-6154 or on Twitter @lelindstrom.

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