By Alyssa Patrick, communications and advocacy specialist for the Washington Association for Community Health.
A healthcare apprenticeship and training program designed to meet the workforce needs of Community Health Centers is growing. In 2014, the Washington Association for Community Health launched In-REACH, the state’s first Medical Assistant apprenticeship program. Since then, the program has averaged an annual growth of nearly 65% and added a dental assistant training track. Over the next three years, In-REACH will develop additional tracks based on top health care workforce needs and expand partnerships with other states thanks to a $2.35 million grant from the Siemens Healthineers Fund of the Siemens Foundation.
“The In-REACH program is rooted in the values of community health centers, centering whole-person, preventative care that is available to all,” said Bob Marsalli, CEO of the Association. “We are grateful to the Siemens Foundation for investing in the expansion of this values-based program to meet additional health care workforce needs in Washington and across the country.”
Healthcare Workforce in High Demand
The Association launched the In-REACH program in 2014 in response to health center and overall healthcare workforce needs that have only continued to grow. Recent occupational data projects that the number of open Medical Assistant (MA) positions will increase 16% nationwide and around 22% in Washington State over 10 years. Similar levels of growth are also anticipated across other health care professions, including but not limited to dental assistants, nurse assistants, community health care workers, and home health aides.
“Community health centers play a pivotal role in ensuring wellness for the communities they serve and helping them build a more diverse and inclusive workforce will only strengthen their service. That’s why we’ve doubled down our commitment to health equity, including our investment in In-REACH,” said David Etzwiler, CEO of the Siemens Foundation. “We look forward to seeing the expansion of their apprenticeship programing, and the economic opportunity it supports, health care across the country.”
In-REACH: A Growing Career Pathways Program
In both of its current career pathway programs, In-REACH partners with more than 65 employers across the state who directly recruit, interview, and hire apprentices and trainees from their local communities. The registered MA apprenticeship is a 12-month program that includes paid on-the-job training, in-person lab days, and online coursework that follows In-REACH’s original curriculum. The curriculum includes a module on Social Determinants of Health (SDOH), which develops professionals who understand and account for the many social and environmental factors that impact a person’s wellness. Visit our website for more details on both programs.
Through In-REACH, more than 87 percent of students complete the MA program and, of those, 99 percent pass the required exam. These positive outcomes have caught the attention of other states. In 2021, the program began a consulting arm that helps Primary Care Associations (PCAs) and workforce organizations across the country set up similar apprenticeships to meet their workforce needs. Current start partners include the Illinois Primary Health Care Association and Wisconsin Primary Health Care Association. Under this new funding, the team plans to expand their national network by up to 10 states, helping with what is a nationwide health care workforce demand.
“Finding qualified staff is a real challenge for health care institutions right now, and apprenticeship programs are an important step toward bridging this gap,” said Dave Pacitti, President, Siemens Medical Solutions USA, Inc.; Head of the Americas, Siemens Healthineers; and member of the Siemens Foundation Board of Directors. “Siemens Healthineers is proud to support the efforts of In-REACH and improving access to care in underrepresented communities through a talented workforce.”
In addition to growing the health care workforce generally, In-REACH is committed to reducing barriers to access for underrepresented communities interested in health care careers and developing a workforce that is representative of the communities they serve. As one way to increase access, the In-REACH program will use a portion of the Siemens Foundation funds to support student needs such as transportation, childcare, and technology.
“I’m proud that In-REACH is focused on both recruiting a diverse healthcare workforce AND helping employer partners lead on DEI initiatives important to retaining a diverse workforce,” said Prudence Chilufya, In-REACH’s Career Pathways Manager. “I also appreciate the diverse group of women who run In-REACH and serve as instructors, and our commitment to bringing in viewpoints that represent our students.”
For more information on the Washington Association for Community Health and the In-REACH program, visit our website at https://www.wacommunityhealth.org/about-us and follow us on Twitter (@WaAssociationCH) or Instagram. For more information on the Siemens Foundation, follow @SFoundation on Twitter or visit siemens-foundation.org.