Creating a steady pool of specially trained physician assistants to support providers and patients at Berkshire Health Systems and its regional network of primary care and specialty medicine practices is one of the primary goals of a Workforce development training launched by BHS, the region’s largest employer.
Hospitals and medical practices across the country are experiencing high vacancy and staff turnover rates, especially in the lingering shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. BHS is responding to the challenge by investing substantial resources – approximately $7 million – in the development of career pipeline programs in high-need clinical areas. Designed for people just starting out or looking for more meaningful work, pipeline programs aim to create a direct career path from education and training to full-time employment. This is a strategy to recruit new employees and ease the burden on existing staff. The program is creating new career paths for hundreds of Berkshire County residents in the health care field.
Nowhere is the need for talented new employees more important than in the role of medical assistants.
“Physician assistants are a vital bridge between our patients and our providers,” said Chris Camillo, vice president of BHS who oversees the network of medical groups of primary and specialist care offices across Berkshire County. “Because they interact personally with every patient who comes into the practice for an appointment, they can put them at ease and in good, caring hands. They are also able to share important information and observations with the dealing provider. They are an essential link.
Medical assistants perform both administrative tasks, such as greeting patients and their families, filing and updating medical records, as well as clinical tasks such as taking vital signs, checking medications and general preparation of the patient for the examination by the physician or nurse practitioner.
Participants in the BHS Physician Assistant Training Program receive six months of intensive on-the-job training from a team of medical education experts and are eligible to receive a full-time Physician Assistant salary, starting at $18 per hour, as soon as they start the program. Upon completion of their training, Physician Assistants are guaranteed full-time nursing positions within the BHS network of offices. They receive a comprehensive benefits package, including health, dental and vision care. New courses are offered every quarter.
To apply for the Physician Assistant Training Program or learn more about this and other BHS pipeline programs, please visit www.berkshirehealthsystems.org/careerpipeline.
The months of intensive clinical and administrative training Steffany Vargas received through the BHS Physician Assistant program prepared her well for a role at Hillcrest Family Health in Pittsfield, but ultimately (and early too) nothing It’s more important than wearing a friendly smile and showing a face of genuine kindness to every patient who comes to the office for medical care.
“I go to work every morning with my happy face,” Steffany said. “They’re not always ready to laugh because you know patients have problems like all of us. But I want to show that I’m a happy person, trying to do my best, trying to help patients as best I can.
Growing up in Cali, Colombia, Steffany had an early interest in the medical profession at the age of 15, but it wasn’t until she moved to the Berkshires and discovered the career opportunities thanks to BMC that she was able to pursue this dream.
Steffany had just completed her Certified Nursing Assistant training at BMC when she heard about the Physician Assistant Training Program. She was drawn to the idea of working in a doctor’s office, greeting patients, taking their vital signs, asking them about the medications they are taking, the reason for their visit today and other ways to prepare them for the doctor or nurse practitioner. This is a brief, but important interaction, and Steffany is aware that her demeanor and professionalism, kindness and compassion go a long way towards making the patient’s experience positive. She also takes great pride in her knowledge of medications and enjoys the time she spends with Hillcrest Family Health providers going over patient details.
“I’m really happy with what I’m doing. I really like where I am right now,” said Steffany, who shares with anyone who wants to listen how BHS training programs have changed her life.
Luis Herrera believes his own experience as a Mexico City native who came to America and the Berkshires in search of a better life for himself and his family is living proof that “anything, anything is possible,” but only if you are ready to seize the opportunities that come your way. One of the first graduates of the newly instituted training program for Physician Assistants at BHS, Luis now proudly assists physicians and patients in BMC Cardiology Professional Services.
“I am one of those [people] who came here with no English, knew nothing about American culture, nothing about medical skills, and look where I am,” Luis said. “BHS made it possible for me. They believed in my skills and believed in the person I am.
Like all immigrants to the United States who face social and economic barriers to success, Luis worked very hard for many years to earn a living for himself and his family, taking every job he could find. He lived in California for a few years before moving to the Berkshires in 2020 after visiting a cousin and uncle who lived here and encouraged him to move. After several years working in the kitchen and babysitting in the area, his first of many jobs with BMC was as housekeeping, starting in 2008. From there, taking advantage of a series of training opportunities, he became an intensive care worker at the hospital and later a technician at the BMC dialysis center in Pittsfield. No one at BMC who knows Luis was surprised when he became one of the first graduates of the Physician Assistant program a year ago. Her goal is to become a nurse.
“I feel so proud to show my children, even though I’m a bit older, that the opportunity is always there, that you should never give up, that you should always follow your dreams,” said Luis . “Opportunities only come once in a while in your life, and if you don’t take them, they’ll probably never come back. You have to catch him while he’s there.