Five years ago, the high turnover of medical assistants was troubling Missy Sparks and her HR team at Ochsner Health System in New Orleans. Qualified candidates were hard to find, and many of them who joined the company didn’t have the right mix of competencies. They had the requisite technical abilities but lacked the soft skills that are so important for dealing with patients and medical staff. “People were coming in and very quickly were not able to meet the demands of the
job,” says Sparks, assistant vice president for talent management and workforce development. She and
her team wondered if they could improve the situation by creating a specialized training program that
would aid the community at the same time.
Assistant vice president for talent management and workforce development
Ochsner Health System
Ochsner Health System’s 28 hospitals
and 60 health clinics in Louisiana and
Mississippi were experiencing high
turnover of medical assistants. New
hires lacked the soft skills required for
dealing with patients and other medical staff.
Sparks and her team partnered with
Delgado Community College to develop
a program through which Ochsner
would train its own medical assistants.
They received planning grants through
a New Orleans Works initiative and the
Greater New Orleans Foundation. They
were shocked when 504 people applied
for the first 20 training slots.
“There are people who want and
need to be given avenues to work. That
has changed our DNA as a company,”
Sparks says. “We recognize now that
we save and change lives in more ways
than just the patient room.”
Sparks and Nadiyah Morris, direc-
tor of workforce development and
talent management, helped hire the
instructor and developed the curricu-
lum, which covered soft skills as well as
medical competencies. Students come
to Ochsner’s medical facilities for on-
the-job clinical training once a week
during the 15-week program. They
also “job shadow” medical profession-
als in various departments and take the
medical assistant national certification
exam, which helps build their self-con-
fidence. Ochsner reserves training slots
for entry-level workers already on staff
A positive response from managers has
prompted the HR team to expand job-specific training to other high-demand,
high-turnover positions. And Ochsner
provides ongoing support for trainees
once they are hired, helping them to connect with community services when challenges in their personal life threaten to
derail their newfound careers.
Understand what the hiring managers need. Study what others are doing.
Start with a pilot program. Be realistic
about what you expect the return on your
investment to be.
Ashley Woodland, left, and Jadeiria Lemar, students in Ochsner Health System’s medical assistant
program, get hands-on practice under the watchful eye of registered nurse LeeAnn Dooley. PH
VIEW a video on 5 ways HR can help solve the skills gap.