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CSU highlights emerging medical field this week

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Connie Sinclair wasn't familiar with Clayton State University's Medical Assisting Program until she was looking for a place to attend college in 2003.

The Ellenwood resident moved to the county that year, and knew she wanted to attend a college in Georgia, but wasn't sure which one.

She discovered Clayton State, and thought it was the ideal place, since it was only about 10 miles from her house. The question then became what she would study in college.

"I found [Medical Assisting] while I was investigating the different programs offered by the university," said Sinclair, who is currently in her third semester in the program. "I thought it was an interesting program in a growing field."

The Medical Assisting Program at the college is currently celebrating Medical Assisting Recognition Week from 10 a.m., to 4 p.m., today with a health fair at the James M. Baker University Center. The program also hosted a health fair on Monday, during which students in the program conducted blood-pressure screenings and provided visitors with information about sexually transmitted diseases, depression, and substance abuse.

"We're doing the health fairs to raise awareness about our program," said Marti Costello, an assistant professor in the program. "I can't tell you how many times we hear students say 'Wow, I didn't know you guys offered this program.' "

Clayton State currently offers a certificate program, and an associate's degree program to train medical assistants. The two-tiered program is accredited by the American Association of Medical Assistants' (AAMA) Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs. Students, who are participating in the certificate program, have to take 42 hours of classes. Students in the associate's degree program must complete 72 hours of classes.

The courses also allow students an opportunity to study in a lab that simulates several environments in a doctor's office, such as the front desk area, the pediatric weighing area, and the examination tables. After the students complete their studies, they have to apply for certification from the AAMA.

Medical assistants are different from nurses, because they primarily do office work, such as answering the phone, and filling out medical-coding forms for insurance companies. They can also do basic medical services, such as checking a person's vital signs, and weighing the person and measuring the person's height.

Nurses provide more advanced medical services, including treatment for a person's ailments. The issue facing the medical community, though, is not what a nurse can do versus what a medical assistant can do. The emerging issue facing health-care providers is a growing shortage of nurses.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN), the shortage will reach 340,000 registered nurses in 2020, three times the current shortage. The AACN cites a Nursing Management Aging Workforce Survey from July 2006, which says 55 percent of surveyed nurses plan to retire sometime between 2011, and 2020.

The AACN also cites a November 2005 report from the Monthly Labor Review, which says more than 1.2 million new nurses will be needed by 2014, as more than 700,000 new positions are created in the health-care sector.

Clayton State's Marti Costello believes the nursing shortage will result in a high demand for medical assistants. "A lot of nurses are baby boomers, so they are going to be retiring soon," Costello said. "I think there's going to be higher demand from doctors' offices for medical assistants to fill the gap created by the nursing shortage."

For more information about the Medical Assisting Program at Clayton State, call the program's coordinator, LaTonya Young, at (678) 466-4600.