Medical Assistance Week is a time to take care of a caregiver

“Can you please step on the scale?”

Most of us dread that prelude to our doctor’s appointment, especially if we’ve abused our favorite football fare and the Halloween candy we claim to have bought for neighborhood cheaters.

Yet data obtained from a weigh-in by a trained medical assistant may signal a serious health condition related to rapid weight loss or gain, such as major depression, an eating disorder, a metabolic disease, or a advanced cancer.

And as that blood pressure cuff tightens its grip around your arm, the medical assistant following that shaking silver needle also collects key data about your heart health for your healthcare professional to review, interpret, and possibly address.

While you may be in this setting primarily to see the physician, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner, the frontline health care team member who collects those meaningful numbers is critical. The need for these medical assistants is also critical, especially as we slowly recover from the unprecedented pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic and the great resignation it has brought.

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It’s a need that Central Penn College has beefed up its resources to meet in recent years.

As Chair of the Medical Assistance Program, I am fortunate to be part of a team dedicated to teaching not only vital clinical and administrative skills, but also modeling empathy, compassion and concern. We are also fortunate to have partnerships with UPMC, to help quickly place our Physician Assisting graduates into healthcare facilities and maintain “care” in healthcare.

Physician assistants perform a variety of clinical and administrative duties, including checking and recording vital signs; take a complete medical history; administer medication; assist the supplier with minor administrative procedures; and draw blood.

Central Penn College offers an associate degree in medical assisting, as well as associate degrees in occupational therapy assistant and physical therapist assistant.

The 12-month, 30-credit Physician Assisting Diploma program requires nine months of coursework and a three-month internship.

While technical skills are important, we strive to ensure that our medical assistants treat each patient with respect, empathy and dignity. We know many patients are nervous about their doctor’s visit, and we’re here to be a friendly, welcoming, positive, and understanding entry into the office. We are trained to treat patients with respect and dignity, with supreme sensitivity to a disability, its culture and socio-economic status.

In our program, we teach everything from healthcare and health insurance plan terminology to communication skills and cultural barriers.

In the 20 years I taught at Central Penn College, I have never seen the demand for medical assistants as high as it is today.

We are fortunate to have an innovative agreement with UPMC and the UPMC Pinnacle Foundation. It all started with our Surgical Technician program, which allowed students who successfully complete the program and are hired by UPMC to receive payments equal to the full cost of the programs, in addition to their salary. We have now extended this initiative to students seeking careers in the fields of medical assisting and phlebotomy.

This way we can provide a high quality education in a high demand field without any end cost to the student.

As an added benefit, students can also work in a variety of full-time and part-time positions that can fit into their studies.

Central Penn College also makes the CPC Housing Scholarship – worth $5,800 per year – available to all qualified physician assistant enrollees who attend full-time.

To see what is required to register, visit

As we enter the week of October 17-24 – Medical Assistance Week – I often celebrate my students over 60 with cupcakes or small gifts, as a small gesture to remind them of how great they are. precious.

When you go to your next doctor’s appointment, I hope you’ll join me in thanking a medical assistant. You probably don’t know their names or the obstacles they overcame to get into these scrubs. Thanks to these often-overlooked frontline heroes, doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and nurses can do their jobs more efficiently and diagnose conditions more accurately.

As is often said, Physician Assistants make everything better.

Nikki Marhefka is director of the medical assistant program at Central Penn College.

About Antoine L. Cassell

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