Students get head start in healthcare

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The vision is simple. Michael Burnett, CEO of Piedmont Fayette Hospital, wanted Fayette County students to have the opportunity to learn about the healthcare industry, further their education in the field and then work at the hospital, never having to leave the county.

After three years of working on this project, the first batch of students from Fayette County schools are now working at the hospital. Many of the students are gaining valuable, hands-on experience, and a paycheck, before going back to school or heading off to college this fall.

“This program is changing people’s lives,” said Marci Hanson, student program and orientation coordinator. “Not only is it an incredible experience for these students, but they will be better doctors and nurses because of what they are able to learn here.”

Sean Micklus, was in the first group of students to go through the Certified Clinical Medical Assistant (CCMA) program taught by Julie McKenna at the Center of Innovation, and was the first to get hired at Piedmont Fayette. He is just one example of a student using this experience as a stepping stone. During the week he is working as a phlebotomist and on the weekends he is working in the laboratory at Piedmont Fayette processing lab specimens. He will attend the University of Georgia in the fall, going pre-med with a focus on cellular biology.

“I first got interested in the medical field when my grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Micklus, a recent graduate of Whitewater High School. “I started reading about the brain and decided to go into neurology or cardiology.”

He started taking health career science classes at his high school and then the Allied Health course through the Center of Innovation. After passing his state board exams and panel interviews demonstrating his skills, Micklus was named a state certified CCMA. Close to 20 of his colleagues also passed the CCMA or CNA tests and will join him at the hospital this summer and during breaks.

Micklus said he learned a lot in his first week. In fact, he was able to do his first stick (blood draw) on a patient on his second day.

“It went perfect and I felt like I was on a roll, until I ran into a problem on my second stick,” Micklus said. He got some help and encouragement and then did another 12 that day. “I’m just really super grateful of this opportunity. It is very cool to work here.”

This year the Department of Education offered the CCMA as one of the many End of Pathway exam options for the Allied Health class. Knowing how important certifications are McKenna, who is assigned to Starr’s Mill and teaches at the Center of Innovation for one period, chose to change the focus of her class to CCMA. Forty-four of 45 eligible students in the Patient Care/Nurse Aide class took and passed the CNA exam. While only half that amount made it to Piedmont Fayette this summer, mainly due to time constraints, these students can now get part-time jobs at hospitals or doctor’s offices near their colleges or universities this fall.

“It is our responsibility to train that next generation of healthcare workers and we are very grateful of the support from Piedmont Fayette,” said Lisa Collins, director of Career, Technical and Agricultural Education. “The career experience these students are receiving, and the ability to network with people in the fields they are interested in, is invaluable.”

Collins also praised Mrs. Mckenna’s, and the other health science teachers’, dedication to their students.

“Our teachers are amazing,” Collins said. “Their passion for the health science field and their students is why Fayette County’s young people have the opportunity to earn industry recognized certifications in the field of healthcare – giving them a competitive edge and allowing them to be college and career ready.”

The program is only expected to grow and improve, thanks to the partnership between the Fayette County schools, Southern Crescent Technical College and Piedmont Fayette.

“We hope that every participant in this program has an experience like Sean,” said Burnett. “Not only will they learn and understand the technical skills and processes, but they will learn important professional and social skills as well. We hope that every one of these students enjoys their time at Piedmont Fayette and comes back to us after college.”