Healthcare industry promotes on-the-job learning to grow staff

Craig resident Dajia Lewis, left, learns while working at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in the Patient Care Assistant program which helps introduce individuals to the medical professional. Sarah Delgado, a certified head nursing assistant, teaches Lewis a vital signs monitor in an empty patient room.
Suzie Romig / Steamboat Pilot and Today

After two months working in the patient care assistant program at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, 22-year-old Dajia Lewis is considering attending nursing school.

The Moffat County High School graduate said she loved learning but was never good at formal academic tests. That’s why the hands-on learning program while being paid on the job at Steamboat Springs appealed to him so much as an entry into the medical profession. Three days a week for 12-hour days, she learns while shadowing an instructor or nurse on everything from counseling for nervous surgical patients to removing an IV or catheter.

“It’s a good way to get your foot in the door. It’s a good first step,” Lewis said. “You learn a lot, and everyone is really nice and helpful.”



The Patient Care Assistant program is designed for workers 18 and older with no medical certification or healthcare experience required and begins with six weeks of on-the-job training. The program through UCHealth is just one of the ways the medical profession is working to grow its own employees in a time of staff shortages as the US population ages and needs more medical services.

“It’s nice to be able to learn as you go,” said Lewis, who was hired full-time in October after starting in August. “It’s really a lot of teamwork, and I think it’s a good working environment.”



Judy Davidson, coordinator of the UCHealth Nursing Support Program, noted in a UCHealth press release that nursing assistants provide approximately 70% of direct patient care in hospital settings.

“We realized we could train people with little or no experience in our own environment, giving them hands-on clinical experience to meet the needs of inpatients and interdisciplinary teams. When units have enough PCAs and CNAs to meet patient care needs, nurses can focus on the medical needs of their patients,” Davidson said, noting that well-staffed medical units help reduce the burnout and turnover among nurses.

Christina Pryce, a graduate of Steamboat Springs High School, discovered her professional passion through the SSHS Med Prep program and now works as an X-ray technologist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.
UCHealth/Courtesy Photo

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for registered nurses is expected to increase by 6% through 2031, and this is in addition to a significant number of nurses who have left the profession during the COVID-19 pandemic. 19.

Since the PCA program launched in November 2021, participation has grown to approximately 200 on-the-job learning assistants in the 12-hospital UCHealth system.

Another long-running program that helps introduce teens to the medical profession is Med Prep through Steamboat Springs High School. Med Prep students can participate in 15-hour rotations in a wide variety of YVMC departments ranging from pharmacy to physical therapy, obstetrics to emergency department.

Former Med Prep student Christina Pryce discovered her professional passion through the program and now works as an X-ray technologist at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

“I ended up being really fascinated with radiology and being able to look inside a human body with just the press of a button,” said Pryce, a 2017 SSHS graduate. radiology, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. The technicians I worked with in radiology were very good mentors who were very good at explaining how everything worked. Now some of them are my colleagues who continue to help me improve every day.

Maddie Labor, a 2016 SSHS graduate, calls the Med Prep program “an amazing and unique experience.” Labor currently works at the Steamboat Orthopedic & Spine Institute as a medical and research assistant and scribe, and she was accepted into medical school to start in July 2023 with hopes of becoming a pediatric orthopedic surgeon.

Kipp Rillos, a former SSHS Med Prep class teacher from 2010-2021, estimates that more than half of the students who completed the program are currently studying or working in healthcare.

Med Prep has grown in popularity over the years and now has 18 students in the senior year internship class, said teacher Randy Homan. Observation opportunities have expanded to other areas of healthcare such as EMS, ski patrols, and veterinary and surgical offices.

The new UCHealth Ascend Career Program is another opportunity to develop healthcare professionals in-house. which started in February. The program helps employees continue to work, but receives financial assistance to continue their training to advance in their healthcare careers. The UCHealth system helps defray the cost of certain clinical certifications, apprenticeship programs, and college degrees for employees, ranging from a physician assistant certification to a master’s degree in social work.

“Currently, several staff are working at YVMC while advancing their education through the Ascend Career Program and other available tuition assistance and reimbursement programs,” said Mary Wirta, Human Resources Manager. by YVMC. “These programs represent a significant investment on the part of UCHealth and a positive impact on our recruitment and retention efforts.”

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