When labs are not even a car-ride away: Delivering hybrid learning for budding medical assistants in Alaska’s remote Southeast.

What do you do when you live on a remote island in Alaska’s Southeast, but you want to take the next step in your medical assisting career?  The skills required for medical assisting are both administrative and clinical. But where do you practice your clinical skills when you don’t have access to a lab every day?

Providing medical assisting training to students who want to work in their local communities is a passion for Amy Samuel, Assistant Professor and Program Director, Medical Assisting, at the University of Alaska Southeast. Amy delivers her fully CAAHEP-accredited medical assisting program to students studying in Sitka, Juneau and Ketchikan Islands and other remote locations within the state.

What makes this teaching experience challenging? – preparing students who don’t even have road access to the nearest lab for clinical practice. In Amy’s hybrid learning approach, students learn from a distance via online modules, then travel to labs twice per semester for four days of concentrated lab practice.  And when students make that short trip, they are now better prepared than ever because Amy has incorporated e-simulations into her coursework.

Medical assisting e-simulations from SIMTICS allow students to step through each clinical procedure – from preparing the patient to sending samples away to the lab – from their desktop. ‘I’m always looking for ways to give our students the best possible experience,’ says Amy. ‘When I came across SIMTICS at our national medical assisting conference, and talked to the CEO, Cherry Vanderbeke, I wanted to give it a try. My initial concern was that the student experience would be affected by slow internet speeds in their remote lcoations, so I needed to be sure it would work for them.’

Amy piloted several SIMTICS modules with her students, carefully collating feedback on their experience. The result – the University of Alaska Southeast has fully incorporated the simulations into their medical assisting program. Amy says, ‘It’s a great way to get another modality of practice into the course before students are hands-on at the lab. Students are familiar with terms and techniques by the time they come to lab, allowing the instructor to focus on difficult areas and spend face-to-face time efficiently. The students ask better questions in the lab sessions, too, because they are further ahead in their learning process.’

Hybrid learning that includes e-simulations is a win-win-win. For institutions, more practice for students at home means deeper learning experiences when students have lab-time with their instructors. For students, studying within their own communities saves money and reduces time away from their families and social networks while they learn. Students can practice when they want to, wherever they are, and as many times as they need to, to get to grips with all the clinical procedures they need to know. And communities are able to retain their young, talented people and improve their healthcare services.

Hybrid learning, supported by clinical e-simulations, takes professional healthcare training to the world.

Amy_Samuel Close Up

* Thanks to Amy Samuel, CMA (AAMA) AHI (AMT), Assistant Professor and Program Director, Medical Assisting, at the University of Alaska Southeast for her help with writing this article. For more information about the medical assisting program at UAS see http://www.uas.alaska.edu/career_ed/healthscience/certificate-ma.html