Healthcare Apprenticeships Offer Northwest Illinois an Effective and Innovative Approach to Solving Healthcare Shortages

Published on November 8, 2023

In the world of healthcare, apprenticeships are relatively new and rare. But Karen Kryder, the innovative learning team leader for FHN—a non-profit regional healthcare system with 17 locations across five counties in Northwest Illinois—is working to change that.

For the past 15 years, Karen has worked to continuously build talent for FHN’s many healthcare needs. She does this by upskilling existing FHN staff or developing a new generation of talent from the surrounding communities.

In both cases, FHN partners with a sophisticated network of over 30 colleges, universities, and other training partners to offer a variety of advancement opportunities for the many roles that they need to fill. As a result, anyone interested in healthcare opportunities—everything from more advanced roles to entry-level positions—have a powerful set of online and in-person options to gain the knowledge, skills, abilities, and experience to build the career they want.

Increasingly, Karen has turned her attention to the apprenticeship model. In a recent interview, she mentioned that when she first got started down the apprenticeship path, she attended the Apprenticeship Illinois Committee meetings and found that she was the only representative from the world of healthcare. She saw a real opportunity to use this model to (a) solve and manage the labor issues, and, more importantly, (b) better serve students and the community.

To get the apprenticeship program started, she partnered with Workforce Connections and MedCerts to develop more medical assistants. This was a great one, two, three punch because Workforce Connections was able to tap into grant dollars from the Department of Labor’s Registered Apprenticeship Program, while MedCerts brought all of the online training, support, and exam prep that was needed, and FHN provided the mentors and ability to give students vital hands-on experience.

So, how does the apprenticeship program actually work?

Here are the key components:

  1. Enrollment - First, an apprenticeship program for medical assistants is established and offered to internal staff or students in the community.

  2. Scholarships - Internal or external candidates are enrolled and can receive tuition assistance or grant funding from registered apprenticeship dollars managed by Workforce Connections as well as from FHN’s own internal support of this program.

  3. Education - The program begins with MedCerts’ online medical assistant program. This is very appealing to students because MedCerts’ programs are all offered online and students can take them on their own time. This means that people can continue their day jobs while they go through the apprenticeship program: a huge selling point for the program.

  4. Mentorship - Once people are enrolled, they are matched with a mentor at FHN. In this case, mentors are active or former medical assistants who coach, train, and support the apprentice. Nicknamed “preceptors,” these mentors are tasked with getting to know the apprentice and what they are learning, as well as with helping them apply their learning to the job at hand. The preceptors also receive their own training to help the students in the program. The beauty of this setup is that it helps both the apprentice and the preceptor. It’s famously true that when you teach, you learn better yourself. Meanwhile, as students work with mentors, they also get the clinical work that is essential to their certification.

  5. Completion - After students complete their online education, they take the exam to receive their certification. All told it takes about a year to go through the entire program. At that point, they can graduate from the apprenticeship to become a full-time employee. That is the remarkable aspect of the apprenticeship: it seamlessly onboards the student into the work in the best possible way.

What is the major hurdle to overcome when it comes to apprenticeships?

Perhaps the toughest thing about apprenticeship programs in healthcare is that they are relatively new. This means that a lot of the people currently employed in healthcare roles didn’t get into those roles via apprenticeships. More often than not, they received associate or bachelor’s degrees, which means that they spent a lot more time and money on their schooling compared to the new crop of students using the apprenticeship method. This difference in education can create a certain amount of skepticism among incumbent workers, as they wonder whether apprenticeships can truly produce the same results for less time and money.

But the truth is, these programs do work. Short-term programs like this get people the skills, experience, and support they need so they can enter the market sooner. Given the labor shortages and how hard it is for healthcare providers to find the entry-level talent they need, the apprenticeship program is exactly what the healthcare industry needs.

Is FHN’s apprenticeship program growing in popularity?

Yes. Despite the challenges, FHN’s apprenticeship program is gaining momentum. People are gradually realizing that the world of education and training is evolving and that education-to-work pathways need to adapt to current needs.

Through the apprenticeship program, a wide variety of people without experience can approach a much wider array of jobs, get the training, education, and experience they need, and start to work far more quickly than normal. They also don’t have to go into debt and can often maintain other jobs while they go through the program.

Today, the reputation of FHN’s apprenticeship program is growing. While not large, the body of students who have completed the program have shared their success stories with others, and Karen says that the program is getting strong interest through word of mouth. Even without marketing campaigns or formal outreach, students are starting to show up because they’ve heard from recent graduates how well the program sets them up for success in their careers. Once FHN is ready to scale, they expect interest to continue to grow.

What is next for FHN’s apprenticeship program?

Karen’s goal is to continue to grow the program. When community members can train, get paid to learn, and then get a good job, it is a win for everyone. The student benefits (low-cost education, training, and a job), the business benefits (expanded talent supply), the patient benefits (better, faster service), and the community benefits (see all of the above). As more people go through the program, word will continue to spread, which means that FHN will soon need to expand its offerings, thus helping increasing numbers of students and current employees to grow in their careers.

Today, Karen is actively seeking more partners and students to join the apprenticeship program. When asked about her favorite part, she said, “The apprenticeship program is so great because it is really one of the best ways to help people find a career they are passionate about in healthcare. It helps them advance in those careers, and is ultimately a better way to serve the community and patients and those students.”

If you would like to learn more or to develop your own apprenticeship program, please contact us below.

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Written by
Jennifer Kolb
National Director of Workforce Development

As MedCerts National Director of Workforce Development, Jennifer Kolb is responsible for overseeing strategy and business development efforts at MedCerts with an emphasis on the k-career pipeline.

Prior to MedCerts, Jennifer served in several leadership positions at Tallo and Hawkes Learning where she built and lead sales and marketing, new product launches, technology development updates and an entire product relaunch to be ADA compliant.

Jennifer has spent a decade within the workforce industry working with educators, state leaders, business and industry officials, post-secondary institutions and grant organizations from across the country, all with the mission of bettering people's lives. Coming from a long line of educators and with a business-centered mindset, Jen is passionate about student success and cultivating creative strategies for ensuring all talent has access to educational and career-related opportunities.

Jennifer earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Marketing and Psychology with a focus in business management from Clemson University.

Published on November 8, 2023

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