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Seven of the eight graduates of the new Medical Assistant Apprenticeship Program in Baumholder, Germany, display their diplomas Wednesday. From left are Mary Basiliere, Baumholder’s Red Cross station manager, and graduates Dana Wardell, Nikki Gonder, Amber Stewart, Marie Shea, Catherine Hoover, Alvina Herrera and Tara Whitmore. In the rear, far right, is Lt. Col. Mike Money, chief clinic nurse.

Seven of the eight graduates of the new Medical Assistant Apprenticeship Program in Baumholder, Germany, display their diplomas Wednesday. From left are Mary Basiliere, Baumholder’s Red Cross station manager, and graduates Dana Wardell, Nikki Gonder, Amber Stewart, Marie Shea, Catherine Hoover, Alvina Herrera and Tara Whitmore. In the rear, far right, is Lt. Col. Mike Money, chief clinic nurse. (Terry Boyd / S&S)

BAUMHOLDER, Germany — It’s a business sector rich with jobs — all those health-care positions in the fat Sunday help-wanted sections of newspapers back home.

But, how do you know the field is right for you?

Or, as Tara Whitmore put it, “You don’t want to pay for nursing school tuition, then drop out because you’re nauseous all the time,” overwhelmed by dealing with injuries and medical conditions not for the squeamish.

Whitmore and seven others found out if they have the right stuff courtesy of Baumholder’s new Medical Assistant Apprenticeship Program, part of an innovative partnership between Baumholder’s American Red Cross station and the base medical clinic.

The inaugural program took eight candidates and put them through a 167-hour program over 10 weeks, working two days per week in every part of Baumholder’s clinic, including booking appointments and learning the new computerized record-keeping system.

The program is only the second of its kind offered by the Red Cross, said Mary Basiliere, Red Cross station manager in Baumholder. The other is at Fort Bragg, N.C. The Baumholder program is more focused on developing real-world, marketable skills needed to work in clinics, hospitals and doctors’ offices, while the program at Fort Bragg offers first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and other noncareer training.

Baumholder’s program is not meant to be an automatic entry into a job at the clinic, which is the case with an established dental assistant program. The dental program accepts candidates based on projected vacancies resulting from staff losses at Baumholder’s huge dental clinic, Basiliere said.

She was getting so many queries about a medical assistant program she conducted an informal survey during a November predeployment community meeting.

Her suspicions were confirmed when 40 people applied for the program, advertised largely by word of mouth. Calls about the program are still coming in from as far away as NATO headquarters in Belgium.

The 40 candidates went through two days of interviews, with organizers selecting eight for the first class, a number the staff thought manageable for the relatively small clinic.

Red Cross and Army officials still had to create a program. Standing at the graduation ceremony Wednesday, there was a still a note of disbelief in Basiliere’s voice: “It was something we didn’t know if we were going to pull off.”

By all accounts, the program came together quickly. Dr. (Col.) Jeffrey Lawson, clinic commander, signed on, then brought in Lt. Col. Mike Money, chief clinic nurse, as medical assistant program director. The program found funding, including $1,400 from the Baumholder Community Spouses Club.

Basiliere said Money devised a curriculum that would be half class work, half hands-on experience, with each student spending time in every department, including the pharmacy, physical therapy, records, optometry and pediatrics.

As the program coalesced, organizers found out that academic accreditation was impractical because, among other issues, it requires an eight-year track record. But, asked if the program will open doors, Money emphasized the practical appeal for a potential employer.

“If I’m interviewing a group, and someone has proof of computer training, for example, that’s a leg up,” Money said. “If they have a document that shows they’ve volunteered 167 hours at the clinic in a program, that will sway me. That’s a big plus.”

The inaugural class was in the clinic by Feb. 21, but there were concerns over whether people who were not paying for a program, but were essentially volunteering, would show up, much less be reliable.

The eight were totally committed, Basiliere said, and in graduation remarks, Money and Lawson and other clinic personnel lauded graduates for becoming integral parts of the clinic staff.

As for the graduates, each went in with some health-care employment experience, and each came out with a plan. Whitmore said she knows her stomach “is really strong enough” to make it through nursing school.

Catherine Hoover said she plans to enroll in the nursing program at Arizona State University West in Phoenix. Dana Wardell decided radiology will be her career, though she was nearly seduced by the optometry part of the Baumholder program.

“You know,” Wardell said, “there was not one place I didn’t enjoy, even central appointments.”

Health care top U.S. industry

It’s been true for two decades, and it’s still true — health care has the jobs.

During Wednesday’s graduation for the new Medical Assistant Apprenticeship Program in Baumholder, Germany, Dr. (Col.) Jeffrey Lawson laid it out for the eight graduates.

Health care accounts for 15 percent of the jobs in America, said Lawson, commander of Baumholder’s medical clinic. Americans spend 15 percent of the gross domestic product on health care, he said.

In 2004, health care was the United States’ largest industry, providing 13.5 million jobs, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor. Eight out of the 20 fastest-growing occupations are in health care.

Most health-care workers have jobs that require fewer than four years of college, according to the DOL. Aides, technicians and assistants in nondegreed jobs earn between $8 and $16 per hour.

Other white-hot sectors of the economy, such as communications technology equipment manufacturing, grew faster. But from 2002 through 2005, the health-care piece of the gross domestic product grew consistently, by an average of 3.8 percent and by at least 3 percent each year, according to statistics from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis.

That growth rate is far better than, for example, the construction sector, which grew by only 2 percent during a housing boom.

Orientation

Candidates for the Medical Assistant Apprenticeship Program will be drawn only from the Baumholder, Germany, community.

The next orientation for the program is May 9 at the Red Cross office. Interviews will be conducted on May 10, and candidates will be chosen by May 15. Classes will start May 30.

— Terry Boyd

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