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News / Health / Clark County Health

Vancouver’s Cascadia Tech lets students start medical careers straight out of high school

Cascadia Tech Academy introduced medical assisting program three years ago to meet high demand

By Chrissy Booker, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 4, 2024, 6:02am
5 Photos
From left: Cascadia Tech Academy student Hannah Freimuth, 18, has her height and weight measured by classmate Leslie Vega, 17, as Unzila Alauddin, 17, takes the blood pressure of fellow student Mia Yanez, 18, on Friday afternoon. The medical assisting program at Cascadia Tech Academy allows students to gain clinical experience at local clinics and hospitals.
From left: Cascadia Tech Academy student Hannah Freimuth, 18, has her height and weight measured by classmate Leslie Vega, 17, as Unzila Alauddin, 17, takes the blood pressure of fellow student Mia Yanez, 18, on Friday afternoon. The medical assisting program at Cascadia Tech Academy allows students to gain clinical experience at local clinics and hospitals. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Seven students at Cascadia Tech Academy in Vancouver are among the first in the state eligible to become certified medical assistants right out of high school.

The medical assisting program at Cascadia Tech, introduced three years ago, allows students to gain clinical experience through partnerships with local hospitals where they complete 160 hours of clinical training. Upon completion of the program, students are prepared to take the National Certified Medical Assistant exam. If they pass, they can immediately begin their professional career in health care.

“Getting a younger workforce out there and trained is big for the health care community and for Clark County,” said Justin Dipietra, who leads the program alongside part-time instructor Brianne Hollett. “If kids don’t want to go to college, they can leave here ready to enter the workforce.”

Next year, Dipietra’s classroom will jump from seven students to 50 as the program continues to grow. Dipietra previously worked for Rebound Orthopedics & Neurosurgery as a medical assistant, but he made the switch to teaching at the beginning of the pandemic. Although the workforce demand for technical and trade jobs has increased, not enough high school students see it as an option for them, he said.

Run by Evergreen Public Schools, Cascadia Tech offers career and technical education across 18 programs for juniors and seniors from school districts across Clark County. Students there can earn college credits, as well as certifications and licenses specific to their program areas.

The demand for workers in technical and trade professions remains strong, according to a study from Washington’s Skilled and Educated Workforce. The 2022 study found that in 2010, nearly 41 percent of all credentials awarded by community colleges were non-degree certificates. Today, as much as 25 percent of the workforce has a non-credit certificate, license or another vocational award.

“It starts early on. Getting that word out to students and letting them know it’s an option early on is really important,” Cascadia Tech Director Joan Huston said. “It’s huge for us, because then they can go out into the industry and be ready for work. We really prepare the future of the workforce.”

Hands-on learning

Dipietra’s second-year medical assisting students dived headfirst into their medical demonstrations Friday afternoon at Cascadia Tech, where they reconvened after the previous week of clinical training. The seven high school girls, who have worked side by side for the past two years, performed a series of vital checks on each other in a classroom equipped with mannequins, hospital beds and medical equipment.

They measured each other’s height, pulse and blood pressure and performed saline injections on anatomical models.

Hudson’s Bay High School senior Unzila Alauddin, 17, prepared to administer a saline injection by disinfecting the skin on the model and flicking the syringe to remove air bubbles from the solution.

Alauddin spends the first half of her day at Clark College for Running Start classes, before reporting to Sea Mar Vancouver Medical Clinic on Fourth Plain Boulevard for her clinical training hours. She already has been offered a job at Sea Mar and is slated to take her exam in June.

“When I saw this program, I said, ‘Wow, this is a really good entryway to get my foot in the door and see if I really loved medicine,’” Alauddin said. “In the end, I did choose medicine because I felt more drawn to it. You really have to enjoy medicine for this to work.”

In the first year of the program, students are introduced to coursework on anatomy, physiology and medical terminology, Dipietra said. Through lab hours and off-site clinical training, students learn hands-on skills such as suturing and administering injections. Students can also earn their CPR and first-aid cards through the American Heart Association, as well as complete Washington blood-borne pathogen training.

Ridgefield High School senior Hannah Freimuth, 18, is completing her clinical training hours at the Sea Mar Battle Ground Medical Clinic, where she’s also been offered a job after she graduates. She said the program has been a guide in helping her focus on a career path.

“We’re a small class of girls who are with each other all year. It’s taught me a lot about working on a team, which is something that’s really important in the medical field,” Freimuth said. “Being here has taught me to be able to depend on those around you. You don’t have to be perfect on your own.”

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

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