The healthcare industry promotes on-the-job learning to grow staff

Craig resident Dajia Lewis, left, is learning while working at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center through the Patient Care Assistant program that helps introduce people to the medical professional. Sarah Delgado, Certified Leading Nursing Assistant, tutors Lewis on a vital signs monitor in an empty patient room.
Suzie Romig / steamship pilot and today

After two months of 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 loves learning but has never been good at formal academic tests. That’s why her hands-on learning program while getting paid for her job in Steamboat Springs was so appealing to her as an entry into the medical profession. Three days a week for 12-hour days, she’s learning while following an instructor or nurse about everything from tips for relieving nervous surgical patients to removing an IV or catheter.

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



The Patient Care Assistant (PCA) program is designed for workers aged 18 and over with no required medical certification or healthcare experience and begins with six weeks of on-the-job training. The program through UCHealth is just one way the medical profession is working to grow its employees in an era of understaffing 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. “There is really a lot of teamwork and I think it’s a good working environment to be in.”



Judy Davidson, UCHealth’s Nursing Support Program Coordinator, noted in a UCHealth press release that nursing assistants provide approximately 70 percent of direct patient care in hospital facilities.

“We realized that we could train people with little or no experience in our environment, enabling them to gain hands-on clinical experience to meet the needs of hospitalized patients and interdisciplinary teams. When units have enough PCAs and CNAs to meet patient care needs, nurses are able to focus on their patients’ medical needs, ”Davidson said, noting that well-equipped medical units help reduce the burnout and the turnover of nursing staff.

Christina Pryce, a graduate of Steamboat Springs High School, found 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 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for registered nurses is projected to increase by 6% through 2031, in addition to a significant number of nurses who left the profession during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since the launch of the PCA program in November 2021, participation has grown to approximately 200 caregivers learning on the job in the UCHealth system of 12 hospitals.

Another long-standing 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 room.

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

“I was really fascinated by radiology and was able to look inside a human body at the touch of a button,” said Pryce, who graduated from the SSHS in 2017. “After my rotation in the department of radiology, I knew this was what I wanted to do. The technicians I was shadowed with in radiology were really great mentors who didn’t hesitate to explain how everything worked. Now, some of them are my colleagues who continue to help me improve every day “.

Maddie Labor, who graduated from SSHS in 2016, 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 was admitted to medical school to begin July 2023 with hopes of becoming a pediatric orthopedic surgeon.

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

Med Prep has grown in popularity over the years and now has 18 students in their final year internship class, said teacher Randy Homan. Shadow opportunities have expanded into other health areas such as EMS, ski patrol, and veterinary and surgical practices.

Another avenue for developing in-house medical professionals is the new UCHealth Ascend Career program which started in February. The program helps employees keep working, but they receive financial assistance for continuing education to advance their healthcare careers. The UCHealth system is helping to cover the costs of select clinical certifications, learning programs, and graduate degrees for employees, ranging from certifying a medical assistant to a master’s in social work.

“Currently, we have more employees working at YVMC as they advance their education through the Ascend Career program and other available tuition assistance and reimbursement programs,” said Mary Wirta, YVMC’s HR manager. “These programs represent a significant investment by UCHealth and a positive impact on our recruitment and retention efforts.”

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