Person typing on laptop with stethoscope.

It’s a well-known fact in the healthcare industry that few hospitals have all the medical assistants they need to meet staffing demands. The industry is changing, and recruitment and training haven’t caught up yet to new expectations. However, for hospitals to remain viable, they must embrace the rise of the medical assistant role.

“Everybody agrees that there’s a big need, but there’s no sense of urgency to get this done,” said Karen King, Managing Director of Healthcare at Penn Foster. Hospital administrators know it should be a priority, but they’re also busy. “They’re so overworked and they have so much other stuff on their plate, it’s not on the forefront.”

The irony is that bringing in more medical assistants can improve workflow and efficiency, with the result that everyone is less overworked and can provide higher quality patient care. Medical assistants perform the record keeping and basic clinical tasks that allow the hospital to operate within CMS guidelines while freeing time for doctors and nurses to do the work that only they can. Recruiting, hiring, and training medical assistants needs to become a top priority, but hospitals don’t have to do it alone.

The state of the medical assistant industry

Employment of medical assistants is projected to grow 23% by 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Compare that to the 17% projected growth for other healthcare support occupations which is already significantly higher than the all-industry average. What’s causing this rapid increase in demand? Several factors. The population is aging and people are living longer with chronic health conditions. As a result, people need more care and they need it longer.

At the same time, the Center for Medicaid/Medicare Services is changing reimbursement standards to decrease spending and increase transparency as part of an ongoing evolution in the healthcare industry.

Hospitals and doctors are starting to look at patients holistically instead of episodically. At least, they’re working on doing so. In reality, the complex machinery of healthcare means the pace of change can be slow. Partly that’s due to the high stakes nature of the work, partly to budgets, and partly to the size and scope of the average healthcare organization.

But change is coming whether hospitals are ready or not. Making strategic choices about recruiting, hiring, and training medical assistants must be part of the solution.

What to do about the medical assistant shortage

Of course, if the entire industry is struggling to fill medical assistant jobs, then simply increasing traditional recruitment probably won’t help. There aren’t enough trained medical assistants to meet the need, and recruitment puts you in direct competition with every other healthcare provider in your area. It’s time that hospitals shift their focus from simple recruitment to workforce development.

When you shift from recruitment to development, you stop waiting for the market to magically supply more medical assistants and start creating the workers you need. Your hospital can do this in three ways:

  • By providing training opportunities to existing entry-level workers.
  • By recruiting people without experience but with an eagerness to learn.
  • By partnering with a training expert who can make both processes easier.

“A training partner like Penn Foster can help you scale recruitment and training quickly,” King said. “You can have a bigger reach.” By connecting you with more potential employees, you can bring your hospital to the attention of the people most likely to want to work for you.

Even if you’re already partnering with a traditional school to supply trained medical assistants, you’re still missing a large part of the market. Penn Foster reaches where traditional schools can’t, by providing flexible solutions to working learners so they can earn a degree without disrupting their lives.

“These people are already working other jobs,” King said. “They don’t have time to go and sit in a classroom all day.”

Penn Foster learners pursue a Medical Assistant Career Diploma online and through a mobile portal using an asynchronous learning model that fits around their job and family schedule. This flexible system helps you upskill individuals within the community of your hospital as well. They can continue to work in their current position while preparing for a shift to a medical assistant role.

To find out how Penn Foster can help you meet the demand for medical assistants in your hospital, contact one of our training experts. We’ll help you identify potential learners within your organization, find candidates in your community, and market your new training programs to both groups.