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Medical assistant program on hold

College halts course while seeking accreditation

Posted: March 23, 2009 1:43 a.m.
Updated: March 23, 2009 4:55 a.m.
The medical assistant program at College of the Canyons has been tabled until it can win accreditation amid complaints from some students that they couldn't find jobs.

Dean of Allied Health Sue Albert halted the program due to lack of accreditation and new requirements from the state chancellor's office.

"Of course I feel bad for the students," Albert said. "All I can do is go forward and get the accreditation."

Albert hopes to seek accreditation within the next year, about the time she hopes the program will be available to students again.

Medical assistant students claim the lack of the accreditation prevents them from furthering their careers. Medical assistants typically work in doctors' offices and perform tasks like taking patient vital signs and organizing medical files.

"If I get the certificate, it's just going to be a piece of paper. It's not going to count," said Darlene Alvarez.

Alvarez said doctors' offices wouldn't hire her because the medical assistant program is not accredited.

Albert said when the program started in 2000, doctors' offices preferred medical assistants to have nationally recognized certifications, but they weren't required.

Alvarez uses financial aid for her tuition costs, but the cost of books and supplies come out of her pocket. She commutes from Sylmar to take the medical assistant programs.

"It's set me back financially," she said. "You don't have enough time to get a job when you're working so hard on this program."

Alvarez, 22, is considering enrolling in another vocational program but hasn't decided whether she will finish the medical assistant program.

"Part of me doesn't want to because I feel like it's useless time," she said. "I want to finish what I started and at least get the certificate because I've already invested so much into it."

Arline Cano of Sunland-Tujunga started the medical assistant program nearly two years ago as a way to expand her interest in nursing.

She doesn't see any value to the program because of the lack of accreditation.

"It's just a piece of paper that you took classes for medical assisting," she said.

She still plans to finish the program.

Without an accreditation, students who graduate from the program receive a certificate from the community college acknowledging that they've done the required class work, Albert said.

The Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health and the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools are the two national accrediting units.

California does not require medical assistant students to be certified to practice in California, Albert said.

"Medical assisting is not a profession that is highly licensed and so you don't have to come out of an accredited program," said Kathy Megivern, executive director of the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health. "Some states you don't even have to go to a program."

However, graduating from an accredited program is typically more attractive to employers, Megivern said.

The accreditation also provides marketing benefits for the college, she said.

"It's a demonstration by a program that they have met nationally agreed upon standards of quality," Megivern said.

The time it takes to become accredited varies from nine months to two years, she said.

The voluntary process involves a self-study by the institution, a review and a site visit from the accreditation team.

With accreditation, the American Association of Medical Assistants administers a certification exam for students, said Donald Balasa, executive director of the American Association of Medical Assistants.


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