School Books to Stethoscopes: Vibrant Health’s Innovative New Program Creates Healthcare Career Access and Student Opportunity in Wyandotte County

It was a typical Monday morning for Wyandotte High School seniors in Monique James’ class discussing current events. 

“Good morning, class,” she began, her voice echoing in the quiet room. “Today, I want to talk to you about something that isn’t in our textbooks. It’s about opportunity.”

As a Health Science educator, Ms. James’ focus is to provide her students with the most accurate tools to assist them in their individual life paths, especially in their Spring semester before graduation.

The room was silent, all eyes on Ms. James. She continued, “Opportunity is a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something. It’s a chance for you to learn, grow, and achieve your goals. But the most important thing about opportunity is that it doesn’t just come to you. You have to seek it out, and when it comes, you have to be ready to seize it.”

This specific opportunity for her students to seize started with an email. 

“Some of the current event articles that we would discuss once a week would raise the question ‘why is it harder for us living in Wyandotte County to get access to things?’. Wyandotte County is primarily Hispanic and African American, so when my students would ask legitimate questions regarding access to care and health disparities with minorities, my response to them is you know there’s a big need for you here in our community to make change. If you want to see change in your community, you have to be the change.” James says.

The first of its kind at a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in the Kansas City area, Vibrant Health is a proud creator of Medical Empowerment Assistant University (MAEU). The MAEU is a unique opportunity for those who are interested in pursuing a career in health care as a Medical Assistant either as a long-term career or as a building block into a nursing program.

“Medical Assistants are a vital part of the whole person care we provide at Vibrant Health. We created this new and innovative program as a way to recruit new team members in a very competitive environment,” says Patrick Sallee, Vibrant Health President & CEO, “Thanks to long-standing partnerships like Wyandotte High School and the KCK Unified School District, we were able to identify local community members who were interested in this opportunity and the work of Vibrant.” 

Based on their specific interests and skill sets, James knew immediately which students she wanted to approach for the MAEU program.

“As a teacher, it was all about figuring out what would be best for them career-wise and then them figuring that out on their own, too. I chose three of my students for this opportunity not only based on their interest level in the medical field, but skillset strategy, too.” James says. “I was seeing these students every other week and the natural progression was fluid.”

Students Dana Bahena, Estela Acosta, and Zikka Snow are living proof that these programs are needed in our community. All three are current students in the MAEU program and are local to Wyandotte County.

“I am a hands-on learner so being able to have this opportunity to put some of what I’ve learned into actual training at Vibrant Health is incredible.”-Estela Acosta says.

There is a huge demand for medical assistants throughout health care, giving graduates instant opportunities to find jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of medical assistants is projected to grow at more than three times the average for all occupations, with 123,000 openings each year through 2031. Medical assistants can be the first healthcare professional a patient sees in a clinic, which means they play a significant role in delivering quality healthcare.   

Vibrant Health’s MAEU is a 12-week program in which participants are employed full time by Vibrant Health while they take required classes, complete skills training, and participate in hands-on work. During a typical 40-hour week, students spend 24 hours in a clinic perfecting job skills and interacting with patients while being mentored by their Vibrant Health team members. The remaining 16 hours are utilized to complete online coursework or lab hours at Park University.    

There are 10 participants in this first co-hort. Three students were referred by Ms. James and the remaining seven students responded to an online posting, were referred by a local employer or Vibrant Health employee.

“This program is something that I wish was available to me when I was starting my health care career journey,” Gina Taylor, Director of Nursing at Vibrant Health says. “Watching these students learn and grow into their profession is the most rewarding part.”

MAEU student Zakkia Snow finds inspiration in her dreams from the same place where her dreams exist-with a patient.

“A recent patient that I was working with was encouraging me to stick with this program and climb the medical field ladder to wherever I envision myself being. It’s a heartwarming feeling to connect with these patients and bring everything full circle, especially in my own community where I grew up.”

Even though James does not see her students every other week now, she doesn’t question their impact and commitment to the community.

“As they continue to grow, hopefully they feel that they are worth being in their spot in this program. Each one of us has a unique skillset to contribute.” James says, “My dream for them is to not see that being just a part of this program is the end goal. But that they can excel at medical assistant skills and build into a healthcare career, whatever that looks like to them and their interests. Job stability in all areas of careers, especially healthcare, is needed in Wyandotte County.”

And so, in a quiet classroom on a typical Monday morning, a lesson about opportunity turned into an opportunity itself – an opportunity for seniors to learn, grow, and make an immediate difference in their community with Vibrant Health. And it all started with a teacher who believed in the power of opportunity and encouraged her students to seize it.

The current MAEU students will graduate from the program this fall. Vibrant Health is working to set a date for the next MAEU class, which is open to adults interested in beginning or changing to a rewarding career in healthcare.